One of the Most Famous Victorian Dishes Is a Hilarious Lie

One of the Most Famous Victorian Dishes Is a Hilarious Lie

“Good heavens! Challenge umbrellas, the Scots are firing porridge!” exclaims Neddie Seagoon, a character voiced by comic Harry Secombe on the well known 1950s British radio system The Goon Present. The English armed service forces have just been strike with a “great steaming spludge” and aren’t having it.

“Porridge at teatime?” roars Important Denis Bloodnok, voiced by Peter Sellers, in horror. “They’re hoping to unbalance our diet regime!”

Appalled by the Scottish strategies and gastronomic practices, Seagoon prepares a savage retaliation: “If the Scots want to make it a war on nutrition, we have an English dish in our armoury 2 times as deficient in energy as porridge and… twice as lethal.”

“Seagoon, you are not going to fire…” Bloodnock claims.“Yes! Brown Windsor soup!” Seagoon bellows.

Brown Windsor soup was the butt of quite a few a joke on The Goon Demonstrate. Sludgy, stodgy, and devoid of discernable texture or flavor, it was a recurring comedian stand-in for almost everything dreadful about British cookery. Author Terence Alan “Spike” Milligan, who was born to an Irish father, had no qualms about skewering all areas of British society, significantly its cuisine. In the 1956 episode “The Macreekie Growing of ‘74,” the Brits weaponize the soup by pouring it into “naughty cannonballs,” when in the 1957 episode “Emperor of the Universe,” Seagoon injects it into his subjects to rework them into Englishmen.

Brown Windsor soup’s fame extends significantly outside of the hijinks of The Goon Exhibit. Cookbooks together with The Daily Mail Present day British Cookbook usually explain the “thick meat soup” as a well-known dish in Victorian moments, with some recipe authors heading so significantly as to get in touch with it “Queen Victoria’s most loved.” The dish is so synonymous with conventional Victorian-period gastronomy that recipes for it appear in The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook and The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook. Characters dine on brown Windsor soup in a 1994 episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, just as they do in the 2021 tv adaptation of All over the Globe in 80 Times.

Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan of The Goon Show in 1957.
Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan of The Goon Show in 1957. Radio Moments/Getty Visuals

There’s just a single problem: Queen Victoria by no means listened to of brown Windsor soup. As Annie Grey writes in The Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria, “Brown Windsor soup, which is often cited as a favourite dish of the Queen, did not exist at all in the nineteenth century.”

“Everybody in England was introduced up believing in brown Windsor soup,” says Glyn Hughes, creator of The Dropped Foodstuff of England. “What is genuinely, actually peculiar is how deep this is into the British psyche. Stroll up to anyone in the avenue and inquire them about brown Windsor soup, and they’ll say that it was terrible and awful but everybody ate it in the Victorian era.”

Hughes started his scholarly quest to document the origins of his countrywide cuisine for the reason that, he says, “English food items has a horrible popularity, which has been mainly justified.” The task commenced with a several dishes—a spotted dick right here, a Yorkshire pudding there—but progressed in excess of the yrs into a collection of additional than 3,700 entries, alongside with a trio of textbooks. The loathsome gruel was a single of the to start with merchandise Hughs appeared into, since he figured it would be a snap.

“I believed brown Windsor soup really should be so easy, mainly because it is extremely, very renowned,” Hughes states. “I believed I’d go to any one of the renowned Victorian cookbooks and look it up. But there is no reference to it in any of them anywhere—nothing, almost nothing, practically nothing.” Mystified, he turned to the British Newspaper Archive, which contains a broad number of posts from the 1800s. However nothing at all. Hughes even paid out two scientists to go via a century’s worthy of of archives at the Countrywide Railway Museum, due to the fact many resources claimed that brown Windsor soup was when a staple of British rail travel. Given that rail providers are likely to steer clear of serving scalding-incredibly hot soups on relocating automobiles, that claim currently appeared suspect. Absolutely sure adequate, not a solitary railway business menu or recipe guide showcased the soup.

“There is certainly no point out of brown Windsor soup in the Victorian series—nothing until eventually the 1920s,” he states. “It’s genuinely, seriously strange, this mass hallucination likely on.”

At its main, brown Windsor soup is a quite primitive dish. Existing-day recipes by the likes of Jamie Oliver typically consist of a hearty brown stew with beef chuck or lamb. By some accounts, Madeira or sherry have been existing to liven factors up—either integrated in the soup itself or drunk together with to make the complete mess palatable. Provided the uncomplicated component listing, it’s plausible that 19th-century English diners ate comparable brown stews, even if they hardly ever referred to them by this sort of a name.

Some of the confusion could have arisen from potage á la Windsor, invented by Charles Elmé Francatelli, head chef to Queen Victoria, and integrated in the 1846 version of The Contemporary Cook dinner. Having said that, this certain dish, from time to time also regarded as calf’s foot á la Windsor, was a white soup made with cream, rice, and usually calves’ ft. There was also vermicelli soup á la Windsor, a recipe for yet another white-brothed soup, this time with noodles, initial released in 1834 and supposedly served to King George IV. Conserve for the word “Windsor,” neither dish bears any resemblance to the brown Windsor soup we know currently.

Brown Windsor soup may perhaps not have existed, but brown Windsor soap most surely did. Created in Windsor, the cleaning soap was supposed to be a preferred hygiene product or service of Queen Victoria, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Winston Churchill, whose spouse when ordered 78 lbs of the aromatic bars.

The legendary and not remotely edible Brown Windsor Soap.
The legendary and not remotely edible Brown Windsor Cleaning soap. Community Area/Boston Public Library

“So you have Windsor soup, which is completely white,” Hughes claims, in reference to potage á la Windsor. “And at the very same time you have brown Windsor soap. So the joke is you put the two together and you get something absolutely terrible.”

Brown Windsor soup is a prime illustration of life imitating art, a punchline turned into an genuine dish. The moment the reviled—but still mainly fictional—soup became a fixture on The Goon Display, it burrowed its way into the national consciousness and stayed there. Its horrible name goes a very long way to describing why The Unbiased remarked, “Occasionally heard of, but never ever seen, this common soup is distinctly out of favour these times. I defy you to locate it on a menu anyplace.”

Even though few Brits have ever basically noticed brown Windsor soup in the wild, quite a few will staunchly defend its historic track record. Hughes has used several years challenging the Victorian roots of brown Windsor soup—“I hold hoping to proper the Wikipedia site, but I have specified up”—and has faced sizeable fury for his attempts.

Engraving of the soup kitchen at the Conder Street mission hall in 1881.
Engraving of the soup kitchen area at the Conder Avenue mission corridor in 1881. duncan1890/Getty Pictures

“What I observed significantly peculiar about the brown Windsor story is that men and women get really, actually indignant when you tell them that it wasn’t the well known Victorian soup,” Hughes claims. More than the years, he claims he’s acquired indignant e-mails from all types of viewers, such as a distinguished British politician who swears he remembers eating brown Windsor soup on railroad journeys. “People don’t like it when you problem their beliefs.”

Culinary myths are usually amazingly tough to dispel. The Singapore Sling existed properly right before The Raffles Resort claimed to invent it, the legendary barman Jerry Thomas hardly ever arrived up with the Tom & Jerry, and Elvis preferred blueberry preserves, not bananas, on his bacon sandwich. At some position, origin tales simply just really feel genuine, and in the circumstance of a humble soup, too insignificant to dilemma.

“It’s so little and unimportant, you really don’t bother to investigate it,” Hughes suggests. “It makes you ponder: how several items do we believe that if we were to seem into them, we’d obtain they ended up total nonsense?”

Gastro Obscura handles the world’s most wondrous foodstuff and drink.

Sign up for our email, shipped two times a week.