Beer Soup Medieval Recipe (When beer was served for breakfast and beer bellies were well respected)
Reading a book, I came across a very old recipe of beer soup that was used in medieval Germanic territories. It was recorded at the end of eighteen century but it is regarded as much older. Countries that have a long beer tradition, like England and Germany are probably familiar with beer soup recipes, but other population, like maybe eastern or southern Europeans may not even know that such thing exists.
Today, beer is known as an alcoholic drink but back in the days beer was used as food too. And it wasn't an exception or a delicatessen or an exotic dish that you make once in a while for entertainment or other uncommon purposes. It was a breakfast recipe!
Beer has a long history and I won't be surprised to find out that once it had a god of its own, as wine has Bacchus in Roman mythology. As a clue stand a prayer recorded on a Sumerian tablet and dedicated to the Goddess Ninkasi, , prayer that's nothing else then a recipe for making beer. On another text, called Kalewala, this time coming from Finland, there's 400 verses speaking about beer. Also, Gilgamesh, the 2700 BC Sumerian ruler, tricked Enkidu, a nonhuman creature, to eat bread and drink beer to become human with the purpose of defeating him. The Celtic tribes recognized beer as being for humans too, as opposed to wine that was for gods.
It is said that beer, under different names and using a varieties of ingredients, was once world wide spread. Archaeologists found evidence of brewing or drinking beer from China to Italy and Germany. But not all populations ended up with such strong beer culture as the Germans (Celtic and Germanic tribes that took over Northern Europe starting in 12Th century BC). Mediterranean civilizations took on wine and dismissed beer as barbarian.
In the long century they used beer, people must found out that this drink was also an important source of energy. For example, my husband's regular can of beer has 153 calories, along with other minerals and vitamins. That time, beer was not filtered and clear as today so there was more to it then we know about our present day beer.
Frederick The Great
It isn't clear if the beer was first a drink and then became soup or was always used as a cooking ingredient. Practices older then the beer soup I found are recorded on medieval chronicles. It is said that beer was second in importance after bread. In 1551, Johann Placotomus, a German doctor and teacher wrote: "Some subsist more upon this drink then they do on food....People of both sexes and every age, the hale and the infirm alike require it." For 18Th century, in England, beer soup became so popular that it was prepared for breakfast and shared with all family members, children or adults. The modern writers say that the consumption of beer in a family was estimated at 3 quarts (almost 3 liters) per person.
At that time beer was brewed at home, being part of housewives choruses. It was consumed by poor and rich and liked by everybody, from sailors to royalty. Elizabeth Charlotte, a German princess living in Paris in the second half of 18Th century complains in her letters about french habits:
"Tea makes me think of hey and dung, coffee of soot and lupine-seed, and chocolate is too sweet for me - it gives me a stomachache - I can't stand any of them. How much I would prefer [...] a good beer soup, that wouldn't give me a stomachache".
Frederick the great, the German emperor that ruled Prussia between 1740 and 1786, was a big fun and promoter of beer. In a 1777 proclamation defending beer against coffee he wrote:
"It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects, and the amount of money that goes out of the country in consequence. Everybody is using coffee. My people must drink beer. His Majesty was brought up on beer and so were his ancestors, and his officers. Many battles have been fought and won by soldiers nourished on beer, and the King does not believe that coffee-drinking soldiers can be dependent upon to endure hardship or to beat his enemies in case of the occurrence of another war".
Eventually, by making coffee trade a state monopoly, the Germans were forced to stick with beer and beer soup, or find other substitutes for coffee, continuing the tradition of well-rounded human shape. For a while, they praised the beer belly that was associated with a high social status and wealth.
Cheese Beer Soup
This very simple beer soup that survived from that time is based on beer, eggs and bread, common ingredients found in a kitchen. Here is how it goes:
"Heat the beer in a saucepane; in a separate small pot beat a couple of eggs. Add a chunk of butter to the hot beer. Stir in some cold beer to cool it, then poor over the eggs. Add a bit of salt, and finally mix all the ingredients together, whisking it well to keep it from curdling. Finally, cut up a roll, white bread, and pour the soup over it. You may also sweeten to taste with sugar".
Today, beer soup may be a matter of sophistication or culinary knowledge. People I asked about this kind of dish seems to know at lest one: beer cheese soup. Also, the recipes I found online have more ingredients, they add spices,herbs, and garnishes. Sometimes the authors of these recipes regard beer soup as a treat, "hearty, warming and delicious".
Beer soup being such an old tradition, I relay think we should continue it, as a respect for our ancestors that may have been brought up on beer. I never had it but I'm thinking to give it a try.
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If you want to find out more about beer, as a drink in the Middle Age and other food stories from the past, go to howdidtheylive.blogspot.com.