Thursday 21 August 2014

Rumford's Soup

Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford FRS (Woburn, Massachusetts, America, 26th March 1753 – Paris, France, 21st August 1814)

Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford
Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford

Today marks the anniversary of the death of physicist Benjamin Thompson, a much-decorated gentleman who lived a life that could never be called dull. He went from his birthplace of Massachussetts to England and then to Bavaria and Europe, all the time working on inventions as diverse as the drip coffeepot, the Rumford fireplace and even the occasional warship.

It is for a culinary achievement that Rumford has piqued my interest today thanks to a recipe developed by the Count in response to the poverty that he saw during his life in Bavaria. Shocked at the hunger and suffering he witnessed, Rumford prevailed upon the government to develop a system of workhouses where people might be able to eat a nourishing meal. To this end, he developed a recipe for a dish that became known as Rumford's Soup and consisted of the following ingredients:

1 part pearl barley
1 part dried (yellow) peas
4 parts potato
Salt according to need
Old, sour beer

The mixture was cooked slowly and though perhaps not delicious, provided a low cost, nutritious and simple meal.

The soup was served in the workhouses of Munich where the poor were employed to make military uniforms and though children were expected to work to earn their keep too, they were also educated and given time in which to play with their peers. At mealtime, the soup was served with rye bread and workers went back to their tasks with full bellies; in fact, the soup was adapted to serve as a basic military ration and with some amendments to recipe, remained in use by some militaries for two hundred years.

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