As I have stated before (you can read here), the idea that the American colonies were founded on freedom of worship is simply a myth. Virginia was no exception. Founded as a colony largely for economic gain, the English who settled there were loyal to the established Church of England at the time. (After the Revolution, this became the Episcopal church here as the colonies tried to further separate themselves from all things English).
The Anglican, or English Church, of course, had been culled from the Catholic Church through fiery and brutal methods during the reign of King Henry VIII, a previously devout Catholic, who wished to his annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. She had provided him with only one heir, and that a girl, Mary. Henry, desperate to secure a male heir, wanted to now marry Ann Boleyn with whom he was already having an affair.
Despite the cleaving from Roman Catholicism, the Anglican Church, at Thomas Cromwell’s hands, mimicked its parent church in a number of ways, from the Mass to the teachings to the practices. The differences were not subtle enough, however, to avoid a revolution amongst Catholics, many of whom were martyred for their refusal to recognize and worship in the Church of England.
One of the practices among the Anglicans, and by extension the Virginians in the American Colonies, that fell by the wayside as the Anglican church relaxed the nearly 1500 year strictures practiced by the Catholic Church, was Lent. As Catholics, the English spent the forty day period prior to Easter focused on prayer, penances, and sacrifices. They practiced works of mercy and charity up to Easter, and they abstained from meat and fasted much more rigorously than Catholics today. Of course, the farther from Rome the Anglican Church marched, and as it was influenced by the Puritans in the colonies, Lent was, by the 18th century, observed by only a few disenfranchised Catholics and a devout clergyman.
Nonetheless, there must have been a few hardy souls in Williamsburg that still practiced Lent, for Meagre Soup is cooked there, and Lent is mentioned.
I love reading these old recipes. The following is from the above website:
Take a half a pound of butter, put it into a deep stew pan, shake it about, and let it stand till it is done making a noise; then have ready six middling onions peeled and cut small, throw them in and shake them about; take a bunch of celery clean washed and picked, cut it into pieces half as long as your finger, a large handful of spinach clean washed and picked, good lettuce clean washed, if you have it, and cut small, a little bundle of parsley chopped fine; shake all this together well in the pan for a quarter of an hour, then shake in a little flour, stir altogether, and pour into the stew pan two quarts of boiling water; take a handful of hard dry crust, throw in a teaspoonful of beaten pepper, three blades of mace beat fine, stir altogether, and let it boil softly for half an hour; then take it off the fire, and beat up the yolks of two eggs and stir in, and one spoonful of vinegar; pour it into the soup dish and send it to table. If you have any green peas, boil half a pint in the soup for change.
I, of course, need more guidance than “middling” amount and “done making noise,” and this is what the Colonial Williamsburg website does. They put these old recipes into readable terms. As I have said before, however, the Virginians cooked in huge quantities, so I quartered the recipe which follows below.
I really expected this to be a “yuck” recipe, especially with little bits of romaine lettuce floating around in a thin liquid and the use of mace – which I had never used before and had no idea what it was.
I happily inform you that I was quite wrong – not that I will fix it again, because no one here will eat little bits of romaine . . . but I digress.
With some tweaking, a bit more egg and bread crumbs, a little less liquid, this could be a really tasty little dish and a bit filling as well. The Mace, frankly, adds a spice to it that is quite pleasing. Almost a cinnamony nutmeggy smell to the dish.
You will find the original recipe here, and below my amended recipe. For those of you who wish to enter my Colonial Cooking Challenge – you are free to post your favorite soup recipe if you do not wish to cook this one. Go here for the rules.
As I write this, Easter is this weekend. For me – well – that means I can once again be a Southerner and drink ice tea of any kind.
And I can have chocolate.
Hmmmm…..time to start looking into what colonials did for chocolate.
Soup Meagre (for a small family, not an army)
Over a medium high heat, melt four tablespoons butter. When it starts to sizzzle, add a tablespoon of finely chopped onion. Cook until soft, about two or three minutes.
Add 1 stalk chopped celery (I chopped mine fine, but the recipe calls for 1 to 2 inch lengths), 2 to 3 spinch leaves (I tore mine up), a leaf of Romaine (again chopped fine), and a tablespoon or two of finely chopped fresh parsley. Cook another 10 minutes or so.
Shake in a handful of flour and stir until well blended. Add 1/2 quart boiling water. It will sizzle and steam. Stir well to blend.
Add 1/8 cup bread crumbs, a dash of pepper and a pinch of mace (not too much or you will overwhelm the soup).
Let the soup cook slowly over medium heat for about 1/2 an hour, then remove.
Whip 1/4 tsp vinegar with 1/2 an egg (or one small egg) yolk. Slowly drizzle the egg into the soup while stirring. Stir to blend well, then serve.