You are here

Two Starch Soups

As part of my trial dinner for the May Crown 2014 feast, I decided to try out a couple of recipes for starch soup. These had always intrigued me: they just really, really don't sound all that appealing. And indeed, as was discovered, they are in fact as delicious as they sound.

For the purposes of this exercise, I opted with one from Scappi (III.220 p356 in Scully's translation) and one from Messisbugo.

Starch Soup the First

First up, Scappi. The recipe is very straightforward. Take your fresh starch, moisten with plenty of almond milk. Strain it, cook it with some sugar and salt, stirring constantly, then add some rosewater before serving. Pretty easy, right?

It turns out that the suggestion Messisbugo makes, of mixing the starch and liquid together a little at the time, is an extremely good one. Otherwise one is prone to lumps in one's glue soup. However, a metal whisk takes care of the majority of the lumps, should any form.

Note: if loud incessant giggling and sniggering can be heard from the kitchen immediately prior to a dish being served, it's generally not a very good sign for the diners. However, they nearly all managed to try the "soup", and give me feedback on it. In my gratefulness to them for their willingness to test the dish, I refrained from referring to anyone as a glue-eater. Especially since I'd eaten it too.

After serving the soup, my diners helped me discover several flaws in my technique - not that it really matters, because the feedback on the tastiness of the dish was so very dismal and indeed confirmed my suspicions going into the exercise that it's unlikely to ever be made again.

However, the first critical lesson that was learnt was to add the salt early in the piece, before the mixture has time to thicken. Otherwise the salt tends to separate, as it turns out. The second was that it's quite tricky to make sure the rosewater mixes through evenly once the stuff has thickened, because its natural inclination is to just sit on the surface of the concoction, much the same way as oil floats on water. "How did you discover this?" I hear your enquiring minds asking. Well, my lovely plater, Anna, served not one but two bowls of the "soup". This was because her inner aesthete blanched at the idea of serving a bowl full of white glue to the diners. So over one bowl, she sprinkled some cinnamon, which indeed the diners did find more pleasing to look upon. But when people came to actually taste the dishes, one tasted strongly of rosewater, while the other strongly of salt, because they'd come from different levels in the pot.

In either case, though, the dish was universally condemned. It is technically edible. Just like dwarf bread, but with a greater ability to stick to one's insides.

The biggest "problem" came from the salt sinking to the bottom of the pot making one dish particularly salty. Apparently if you give a room full of adults a thick, creamy white slightly salty warm substance, minds will wander to dodgy, dodgy places.

So dish number one was well and truly as popular as I had anticipated.

Starch Soup the Second

The real surprise came with Messisbugo's recipe, however. He tells us that this recipe is called "Diamond". While he doesn't give us a reason why, Fioravanti has a similar recipe which he also refers to as "Diamond" or "Sparkling", because it is of such supreme goodness. In this case, the jury came back with a verdict of edible, nay, enjoyable even - but I very much doubt that anyone would be inclined to call it the bestest most wonderful dish in the world.

Learning from my first soup, I added some salt along with the sugar early in the piece. I also took greater care to mix the starch to try and get fewer lumps, although given that I didn't expect it to be much better appreciated than recipe number one, I can't say I tried all that hard. I also took a little extra time mixing the rose water in, along with the butter.

It turns out that the butter made a critical difference in palatability. It also turned the dish yellow, so it seemed a little odd trying to refer to it as a "white" dish. The yellowness of the dish - also aided by the sprinkling of saffron over the top - appealed to the diners, however, as it gave it a resemblance to custard, especially given the texture also. The sugar volume was also up compared to Scappi, since he only mentions adding a "little" sugar - this also made it more palatable. So surprisingly, this proved relatively enjoyable to people to eat - although they identified it as definitely something belonging to the "pudding" end of a meal, which isn't where I would want to be serving it in a feast.

A Final Note

As a final comment, Scappi specifies in his recipe that the soup may be served hot or cold, whichever you feel like. Cold is really not a good option, for either soup, but most especially the first one.