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Waiter! Waiter! There's a fly in my soup!
May 5, 2013 10:40 AM   Subscribe

For decades Brown Windsor Soup stood as a culinary allegory for the British empire, and was reputedly a favorite food of Queen Victoria herself.

By the 1950s, Brown Windsor Soup appeared to have had its day in the sun, ultimately becoming a favorite source of hilarity on comedy shows ranging from the Goon Show to Fawlty Towers. But it remained a soup fondly remembered by older Britons as terrible swill served on British Rail dining cars and in boarding houses.

In recent years, celebrity chefs and food sites have tried to redeem the dish.

And yet now, a terrible question presents itself. Did Brown Windsor Soup even exist prior to 1950s comedy?
posted by Ahab (45 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Brown Windsor Soup 'Victoria'[...] Serves 4
1 pint brown beef gravy
1 teaspoon malt vinegar
4 peppercorns, crushed
3 oz dark dried fruit (figs, dates, tamarind)
Small glass of Madeira, warm


There is no god.
posted by mhoye at 11:11 AM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fascinating. Who needs renegade Time Lords when faulty cultural memory can maybe mess with British history/reality all on its own?
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:35 AM on May 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is not the soup you're looking for.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:40 AM on May 5, 2013


In fact, Queen Victoria herself was Spike Milligan's retroactive invention. Her name doesn't appear in any records before 1957, when "The Crowning of Vickie Seagoon" aired. If you go back to the original archives, it appears that during the so-called "Victorian Era," Great Britain was wholly owned and operated by an Italian-American expat named Giuseppe "Big Sofa" Colpaccio.
posted by Iridic at 11:40 AM on May 5, 2013 [38 favorites]


I feel like if I made this soup along side a shooter sandwich then reality itself would collapse into a white-hot British Singularity.
posted by The Whelk at 11:45 AM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just flew in from Manchester, and boy are my arms are right knackered.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:45 AM on May 5, 2013


Is it "false cultural memory", or some bloke who hit on the idea of selling the soup knowing full well it was fictional in origin, but as a joke, typical British humour. Find the first commercial product and you have the real origin of the soup.
posted by stbalbach at 11:49 AM on May 5, 2013


It doesn't sound so bad. Sounds more like a case of bad/inattentive/perfunctory cooks can take a decent base recipe and make it 'orrible by cutting ALL the corners.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:50 AM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


instead of broth, we use water, and instead of beef, we use nothing!
posted by The Whelk at 11:54 AM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


See also the Ploughman's Lunch. While bread, cheese, and pickles were probably lunchtime fare well before the 50s, the traditional Ploughman's Lunch plate was brought into being in the 1950s in a promotional campaign by the dairy industry. Now it's devoured by tourists looking for an authentic taste of Ye Olde England.

(I found some Branston Pickle and Dandelion and Burdock soda the other day, and made a big Ploughman's Lunch picnic with crusty bread and ancient cheese and gherkins... in a park near downtown Tucson. Delicious, and ironic!)
posted by MrVisible at 12:00 PM on May 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


mhoye: "There is no god."

Oh yes there is. And he's laughing at Marmite.
posted by chavenet at 12:04 PM on May 5, 2013


And he's laughing at Marmite

Outside. Now.
posted by arcticseal at 12:06 PM on May 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also, Bailey's Irish Cream, created to deal with an excessive cream surplus and marketed as traditional.
posted by The Whelk at 12:07 PM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


(as an aside, I misread the Jamie Oliver link as "Brown Windsor Soup with Pearl Bailey". Which sounds like an enjoyable evening.)
posted by chavenet at 12:10 PM on May 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


So we can assume the Goon Show was parodying a *type* of soup that seemed to represent horrid, stingy Victorianism? Cause it reads like a basic beef stew, one of the first things anyone would learn to cook, and thus something that could be cheapened and corner-cut until it was basically inedible.
posted by The Whelk at 12:21 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


(also I want to try it with veal stock that has been let boiling with a couple huge bones in it for a few hours)
posted by The Whelk at 12:22 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


What The Whelk said.

Also, "Brown Soup", essentially the same recipe, is easy to find. I just found a recipe from The Frugal Housewife (1796) in Google Books.
posted by Leon at 1:00 PM on May 5, 2013


So we can assume the Goon Show was parodying a *type* of soup that seemed to represent horrid, stingy Victorianism?

Yes, it seems likely that the joke is generational and classist (not necessarily in a bad way!) in the same way that US comedians of the 1980s and -90s might mock, say, tuna noodle casserole or meat loaf. Those dishes can be quite delicious when well-prepared, but they're A) symbolic of a particular slice of mundane cultural/social history and B) often carelessly prepared and range from mediocre-to-terrible.

And he's laughing at Marmite

So, is there any way to find out if I'm going to enjoy Marmite without... y'know... tasting it?

Wait, let me clarify: Marmite sounds like the kind of thing I might enjoy. Salty and potent and yeasty and hey this isn't a persuasive list of adjectives so far. But its reputation precedes it, and also it looks like some sort of medical specimen after several years unattended in a lab fridge, so I'm not sure.

I hate waste, and I'm a miser, so I'm a little bit leery of buying a jar just to find out that I HATE IT and also that no one I know wants the entire rest of the jar*, so I'll just have to plunk it into the trash.

Is there any way to gauge whether I'm likely to enjoy it before I actually, like, put it in my mouth? [insert joke here] Is there any other "if you like this foodstuff, you might like Marmite" suggestion, or any sort of overlapping-tastes Venn diagram, or ANYTHING that might indicate that I should just buy a jar already?

*Obviously, if someone I knew liked Marmite, I could just ask for a taste on toast and that would be that.
posted by Elsa at 1:04 PM on May 5, 2013


It's got a kind of umami taste to it. If you've tried and liked vegemite or soy sauce, then they'd be neighbours. However, IANYfoodcritic so take it with a pinch of salty goodness.
posted by arcticseal at 1:38 PM on May 5, 2013


Before today I had no idea what "Bouquet garni" was. Now I want to use it in everything.
posted by TDavis at 1:40 PM on May 5, 2013


> I hate waste, and I'm a miser, so I'm a little bit leery of buying a jar just to find out that I HATE IT and also that no one I know wants the entire rest of the jar*, so I'll just have to plunk it into the trash.

Well, buy the very very small jar. And then if you don't like it, use the rest to make Marmite Spaghetti. It's amazing - it tastes very umami and delicious and almost completely unlike Marmite. Plus it's 'jar of pesto' quick if you're in a hurry.

Also, if you're putting it on toast for the first time, I can't stress how thin a layer you need. Almost like a transparent film of Marmite across the butter. If you have serious doubts about whether it's too little, that's exactly the right amount. Any more and you'll hate it for life.
posted by Isn't in each artist (7) at 1:46 PM on May 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I bet it was the name that was invented as a jokey comment about British royals (Windsor having been adopted during WWI). Because this is just thin beef stew.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:48 PM on May 5, 2013


Well I don't know about the soup, with this white-hot singularity thinga-me-bob but: is this the best sandwich ever? Shooter's sandwich how-to pics.
posted by glasseyes at 1:58 PM on May 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wait, brown Windsor soap? That's not yummy!
posted by glasseyes at 2:01 PM on May 5, 2013


Here ya go, Elsa.
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:03 PM on May 5, 2013


I agree that you want a thin smear of marmite, but this must have a strong foundation of butter. Not margarine, Butter, ideally you butter your toast so there's molten butter puddling on the surface and then stroke the surface of that with marmite. Don't feel obliged to put everything on your knife onto the toast. Also use some cheap arse white bread, the combination that you're looking for here is slightly sweet from the bread joining fatty and umami.
posted by fido~depravo at 2:08 PM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Marmite is a cruel mistress. She's disgusting in every way, but you'll think about her when she's not there, and you'll long for her fermented scent. She'll tell you she loves you while she spits in your face. And you'll love her for it.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:01 PM on May 5, 2013


If you hate the Marmite on toast, try it on toast with butter and honey. If you still hate it on toast, use it when you make stock/bouillon (whether from cubes or real foodstuffs). It adds a nice umami to things, but since it's just rendered vegetables and yeast, it won't add any weird flavors. So you can buy it without fear of it going to waste.

Seriously, marmite saved my cooking habit when I married a vegetarian.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:09 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Vegemite is better.

(ducks)
posted by chris88 at 4:14 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Vegemite has ducks in it?
posted by arcticseal at 4:41 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know how you prepare two slices of toast and one has Vegemite/Marmite on it and the other has marmalade and you put one slice on top of the other to cut them both in half, and then you pick up the first slice and bite into and there is some Vegemite/Marmite on the bottom and marmalade on top? That thereā€¦ that's the taste you've been searching for all of your life.
posted by unliteral at 5:59 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not marmalade, unilateral. Raspberry jam. *That* is the taste you've been searching for all your life.
posted by motty at 6:27 PM on May 5, 2013


Ahhh. See, I knew about the toast and the butter and the microscopically thin, almost invisible layer of Marmite, but I hadn't thought about using it as an ingredient. crush-onastick, that's very persuasive; from what I've heard about Marmite's flavor, I can imagine it adding a great umami note to vegetable soups or salad dressings or sauces. Genius!

ApathyGirl, sadly I've never found the small sachets, nor even the smaller jars. In fact, my local market has stopped selling the stuff, so if I'm taking the Marmite Plunge*, I'll be buying a big honkin' $20 jar of it at the expensive local British import shop.

But it's going to be completely worth it, since this
You know how you prepare two slices of toast and one has Vegemite/Marmite on it and the other has marmalade and you put one slice on top of the other to cut them both in half, and then you pick up the first slice and bite into and there is some Vegemite/Marmite on the bottom and marmalade on top?
made me go dizzy and weak and hungry all over.

*Worst. Bathtime. EVER.
posted by Elsa at 6:29 PM on May 5, 2013


Vegemite is 100% objectively, unilaterally better. Ask all the English people I've lived with.
posted by goo at 8:36 PM on May 5, 2013


Vegemite is better, but I will accept that some Brits have a Stockholm syndrome attachment to marmite.
I can't reinforce strongly enough the small quantity required on a suitably butter sodden slice of toast. A smear, a smudge, a whisp. That 8g single serve portion could do about 5 slices.
And don't limit yourself to cheap white bread.
A thick sour dough, or a poppyseed bagel are both fine alternatives in the toaster.
Matter of fact, I've got it now.
posted by bystander at 10:49 PM on May 5, 2013


So, is there any way to find out if I'm going to enjoy Marmite without... y'know... tasting it?

Dilute a cheap bouillon cube with enough water to make a stiff paste. Smear thinly over buttered toast.

Vegemite has ducks in it?

No, you have to buy your own quackers.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:13 AM on May 6, 2013


Just here to say, no no no, not Vegemite, not Bovril, not whatever OEM stuff Sanitarium sells, Marmite. Not just on toast, if you're feeling poorly and don't have the energy to cook, half a teaspoon of Marmite dissolved in a mug of hot water is better than chicken soup.
posted by Alnedra at 2:52 AM on May 6, 2013


Metafilter: repeatedly telling me that my whole cultural existence has been a lie.
posted by Coobeastie at 4:40 AM on May 6, 2013


Pho is also of relatively recent origin.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:02 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


if you're feeling poorly and don't have the energy to cook, half a teaspoon of Marmite dissolved in a mug of hot water is better than chicken soup.
No, that's wrong. that's Bovril/Cenovis.
To clear all this confusion up [in order of rightness according to me]:
Spread - Vegemite, Marmite, Promite, Cenovis
Soup/Stock additive (umami) - Cenovis, Bovril, Promite, Marmite, Vegemite
Drink created with water - Bovril, Cenovis
posted by unliteral at 7:09 AM on May 6, 2013


Oh, this reminds me of the stuff that was routinely served in the dining hall of the dorm where I lived in the UK.

While the food was surprisingly better (and far, far healthier) than the stuff I ate in the States, about once a week, they'd serve us a dish called "American Bean Pie," which, as far as I can tell, was entirely their own invention. I'd have to imagine that it was some sort of subversive commentary on American culture (this was during the height of the Bush years) from the chef, as the dish was the single most inexpensive, bland, and disgustingly-textured stuff that I've ever been forced to eat on a regular basis.
posted by schmod at 7:31 AM on May 6, 2013


I hate waste, and I'm a miser, so I'm a little bit leery of buying a jar just to find out that I HATE IT and also that no one I know wants the entire rest of the jar*, so I'll just have to plunk it into the trash.

Is there any way to gauge whether I'm likely to enjoy it before I actually, like, put it in my mouth?


I hate waste and am a miser too, so I made someone else buy it by putting it on a gift list for myself. And there is in fact an easy way to tell if you'll like it: You won't.

It was the single most awful tasting thing I've ever had, bar none. I can't even describe it. The. Worst.

The bottle came with a free bottle of something else that I haven't had the courage to try. It claims to be plant-based ("something like pickle relish" I naively said when I first opened the package), but what with the dark brown chunks in dark brown sauce (?) encased in dark brown glass, I can't be sure. I certainly am not putting any in my face-hole after the marmite experience.
posted by DU at 11:33 AM on May 7, 2013


The bottle came with a free bottle of something else that I haven't had the courage to try.
Sounds like Branston Pickle - do yourself a (delicious) favour, chuck some on a cheese sandwich and put it in your face-hole.
posted by unliteral at 8:52 PM on May 7, 2013


Oh yeah, that looks right. I can't even say the word "chutney" without grimacing, so there's no way I'm eating it. The only reason I haven't already thrown it out is that I like the jar. But in order to use it, I may have to come in contact with the contents. You can see the bind I'm in.
posted by DU at 5:06 AM on May 8, 2013


Because of this thread, I lost my Marmite virginity last night. Indeed, gross straight from the jar (like, but not exactly like, raw bullion cube), but nice on toast with butter. I actually used too little at first--needs a good smear, but definitely can be overdone. The combination of butter and Marmite tastes almost cheese-like. I'll try some of the other recipes/concoctions/suggestions tonight.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:34 AM on May 9, 2013


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