On the back of last week’s cock-ale, I wanted to make something I was a wee bit more sure about. This dish, Soppes Dorre, appears throughout medieval and early modern books about cooking. There are at least 10 recipes I could find easily in my search and I am going to prepare two of them for you this week, one savoury and one sweet.
But first, what is a sop?
A soppe, or sop, was a really common dish in the medieval period. At its core, it is simply a piece of bread on which some form of liquid is poured on top. This liquid could be any number of things including ale, wine, some broth/stew-like mixture, or almond milk, or some combination of all of them. It can be sweet or savoury. Like a medieval version of the bread bowl, kinda.
My grandmother always said to eat your dessert first, so off we go with the sweet recipe to start.
This sweet recipe for Soppes Dorre can be found in the second book from Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery Books, written in England around 1450. This work is largely anonymous with the opening simply stating: ‘Here Beginnethe A Boke of Kokery’.
Sidenote: A huge shout-out to the University of Michigan’s Middle English primary source collection where this digital version of our recipe today is housed. They have digitised about 300 different works that are available to the general public here: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/c/cme/.
And now on to the cooking! Here is our medieval recipe in all its glory:
Soppes Dorre. Take rawe Almondes, And grynde hem in A morter, And temper hem with wyn and drawe hem thorgh a streynour; And lete hem boyle, And cast there-to Saffron, Sugur, and salt; And then take a paynmain, And kut him and tost him, And wete him in wyne, And ley hem in a dissh, and caste the siryppe thereon, and make a dregge of pouder ginger, sugur, Canell, Clowes, and maces, And cast thereon; And whan hit is I-Dressed, serue it forth fore a good potage.
Take raw almonds, and grind them in a mortar. And temper them with wine and draw them through a strainer. And let them boil. And cast into this saffron, sugar, and salt; and then take the best bread of the manor and cut and toast it, and wet him in wine, and lay him in a dish and pour the syrup on top. And made a dredge of powdered ginger, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and mace. And put the bread in that and when it is all covered in the mixture, serve it for a good potage.
So what did I do to make this?
- Our second recipe calls for almond milk and I am the patron saint of cutting corners so I opted to just use the already made almond milk and mix it with ale, because this sop can be made with ale or wine, as the various recipes call for. So I mixed my almond milk (sweetened) with a very low hop bitterness beer. About a cup each. And I boiled it.
- To this boiling mixture, I added, saffron, sugar and salt. I reduced this to a syrup like mixture before I stopped cooking it as that’s what the recipe seemed to indicate.
- I got a loaf of a crusty and thick country white bread and a cut it into big slices which I then dredged in the beer I didn’t use for the syrup.
- Pour the syrup mixture over beer soaked-bread
- Mix together powdered ginger, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and mace, or you can just use mixed spice and then make sure the bread it good and covered in that mix
Well, to start with the syrup was divine. Would be perfect with pancakes or French toast. It was thick and malty and sweet with a bit of creaminess. Loved it. Speaking of French toast, that’s what this reminds me of. Lovely and spiced, the ‘best bread’ soaked up so much of the syrup mixture. Honestly delicious and would make it again, but maybe this time as a French toast/soppe hybrid.
Recipe 2 is from John Crophill’s Commonplace Book, which was put together in England sometime before 1485. Like the title suggests, it was compiled by a man named John Crophill who was apparently both a bailiff and medical practitioner at Wix Priory. He died in 1485 so he must have completed this composite before his demise. This Latin and Middle English manuscript is not limited to just recipes, but also includes any number of things like medicine, alchemy, and astrology.
The manuscript itself is held at the British Library and you can find it here: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Harley_MS_1735
The transcription for the recipes was done by Daniel Myers in 2015 and can be found in its complete detail here: http://www.medievalcookery.com/notes/crophill.txt. Here is the recipe:
Tak minced onyowns & oyle de oyle & sethz hem to gidre sithen tak wyn or ale & boille it ther with than tak tosted bred & poure the sewe ther on & melk of almondys above.
And my modern translation:
Take minced onions and olive oil and seethe them together. Afterward take wine or ale and boil it there with, then take toasted bread and pour the onion/ale mix on top and then pour almond milk on.
- Brown onions in olive oil
- Add ale and boil
- Toast some bread
- Dump onion/ale mix on bread
- Dump almond milk on top
Results: This was very much okay! I was sceptical of the almond milk on top of the beer onion mixture but it wound up being quite alright. The bread I used was really good and soaked up a lot of the oil/beer/almond milk mixture. The combination of onions and beer is something I like in other recipes, like French Onion soup and tbh this is what it reminds me of. I did like this, but I would add more spices going forward or at least some salt! And maybe some cheese. Basically, a French onion soup soppe.