An Illustrated Recipe

Count Rumford’s Poor Man’s Guide On Properly Prepared Food For All The Purpose of Nutrition & The Art Of Cookery

Count Rumford's Poor Man Guide to the Art of Cookery

Count Rumford, a multi-patented Woburn inventor, lightyears ahead of his time, who lived in the 19th century, shares in his writings, an affordable meal within the reach of individuals with limited resources. This meal preparation practice common in some parts of Germany –  of cooking for cattle – inspired Rumford’s version of the Poor Man’s Potato Soup recipe. The result of his observation is a surprising stew laced with nuggets of culinary wisdom but utterly lacking in decadent flavors. But, don’t take our word for it. You be the judge.

This 1800 vintage culinary find may actually be the perfect winter recipe challenge for the kitchen warrior who loves to whip old recipes to shape with an arsenal of herbs and spices. The excerpt below provides plenty of insights into this culinary exploration.

Ready…Get set…GO!

“Of Food.

Chapter I. 

“The difference in the apparent goodness, or the palatableness and apparent nutritiousness, of the same kind of food, when prepared or cooked in different ways, struck me very forcibly; and I constantly found that the richness or quality of a soup depended more upon a proper choice of the ingredients, and proper management of the fire in the combination of those ingredients, than upon the quantity of solid nutritious matter employed, — much more upon the art and skill of the cook than upon the amount of the sums laid out in the market.

I found likewise the nutritiousness of a soup, or it s power of satisfying hunger and affording nourishment, appeared always to be in proportion to its apparent richness or palatableness.

But what surprised me was the discovery of the very small quantity of solid food which, when properly [prepared], will suffice to satisfy hunger and support life and health, and the very trifling expense at which the stoutest and most labors man may, in any country, be fed.

Potato soup recipe ingredient icon

“…it was found that the cheapest, most savory, and most nourishing food that could be provided was a soup composed of pearl barley, pease, potatoes, cuttings of the fined wheaten bread, vinegar, salt and water, in certain proportions.”

[…]—it was found that the cheapest, most savory, and most nourishing food that could be provided was a soup composed of pearl barley, pease, potatoes, cuttings of the fined wheaten bread, vinegar, salt and water, in certain proportions.

Poor’s Man Potato Soup

The method of preparing this soup is as follows:

  1. The water and the pearl barley are first put together into the boiler and made to boil, 
  2. The pease are then added,  and the boiling is continued over a gentle fire about two hours. 
  3. The potatoes are then added ( having been previously peeled with a knife, or having been boiled, in order to their being more easily deprived of their skins), and the boiling is continued for about one hour more, during which time the contents of the boiler are frequently stirred about with a large wooden spoor or ladle, in order to destroy the texture of the potatoes, and to reduce the soup to one uniform mass. 
  4. When this is done the vinegar and the salt are added; and last of all, at the moment it is to be served up, the cuttings of bread.
Rumford Soup Boiling

“The soup should never be suffered to boil, or even stand long before it is served up after the cuttings of bread are put to it”

The soup should never be suffered to boil, or even stand long before it is served up after the cuttings of bread are put to it. It will, indeed, for reasons which will hereafter be explained, be best never to put the cutting of bread in to the boiler at all, but [ …] to put them into the tubs in which the soup is carried from the kitchen into the dining hall; pouring the soup hot from the boiler upon then and stirring the whole well […] with the iron ladles used for measuring out the soup to the poor in the hall. 

It is of more importance than can well be imagined that this bread which is mixed with the soup should not be boiled. It is likewise of use that it should be cut as fine or thin as possible; and, if it be dry and hard, it will be so much the better.

The bread we used […] is what is called semmel bread, being small loaves weighing from two to three ounce; and, as we received this bread in donations from the bakers, it is commonly dry and hard, being that which not being sold in time remains on hand, and becomes stale and unsalable.  And we have found by experience that his hard and stale bread answers for our purpose much better than any other; for it renders mastication necessary, and mastication seems very powerfully to assist in promoting digestion.  It likewise prolongs the duration of the enjoyment of eating, a matter of very great importance indeed, and which has not hitherto been sufficiently attended.”

Rumford Soup Bottom Image2

Reference | Sources

Read More

The Complete Works of Count Rumford

  • Rumford, Benjamin, Graf Von, 1753 -1814; American Academy of Arts and Sciences, pp400-4003, accessed 10/25/2020

The Life and Legend of Count Rumford

  • Rumford Historical Association, accessed 10/25/2020

Credits

  • Digital collage created by Patricia Jacques
  • Graphic food Icons found at Canva.com & Free-images.com
  • Potato soup recipe discovered in “The Complete Works of Count Rumford,” Vol 4, Glennon Archives, Woburn Public Library.