There once was a woman who organized Regency Era events in Edmonton, featuring period-appropriate music, clothing, dancing, and food. The Regency Era is an obscure period of time to most North Americans, so allow me to illuminate. It preceded the Victorian Era in Great Britain. It is so-called because the ruler of England was the Prince Regent, George. His father George III was technically king, but deemed unfit to rule on account of mental illness. This was the period in which Jane Austen lived, and for you nerdy food historians, it is also the era of Carême and the dawn of the modern culinary tradition. For a while Carême was actually the personal chef of the Prince Regent.
Anyways there were Regency themed events happening in Edmonton, and for one particular annual event, the Regency Hymn Service and Candlelit Holiday Tea, I prepared the food for a few years. I’ve always been interested in historical food. Working in cafés and restaurants you often need to bow to fads and trends to attract customers. I’m thinking of things like avocado toast, kombucha, gluten-free… Regency food was, ironically, quite refreshing. Rarebit and mincemeat and mulligatawny and sugar plums and a white jello called flummery and all manner of things that I would probably never get to put on a menu. It was really fun. And to top it all off the events were held in one of the most special and beautiful venues in Edmonton, the Neo-gothic gem that is the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Old Strathcona.
Regrettably for Edmonton the woman behind Lady Jane Productions has since moved to Winnipeg, where she continues to host events. Today I was cleaning and found a recipe I developed for her Holiday Tea services, scrawled on the back of some till tape. The dish is white soup, a staple of Regency-era balls, and actually mentioned by Austen in Pride and Prejudice.
I read through many old recipes before making my own version of white soup. The ingredients list and procedure that made the most sense to me was in a book called Dinner with Mr. Darcy. It helped me to understand the dish as a cream soup based on chicken or veal stock, thickened with blanched almonds. (Many old “white” recipes made good use almonds: blancmange, for instance, and the aforementioned flummery.) The book also revealed that in earlier times white soup was garnished with pomegranate seeds and lemon slices, which was just too fun to not try. I ended up using lemon zest instead of slices, and adding fried rosemary to try and bring the profile back into the savoury domain.
If you’d like to learn more about Regency Era events, you can watch this fantastic piece by the BBC.
Janine, I’m sorry that it’s taken me so long to get you this recipe.
Adapted from a recipe in Dinner with Mr. Darcy
- 80 g bacon fat
- 425 g white onion, sliced
- 20 g garlic, finely minced
- 200 g celery, chopped
- 425 g potato, starchy variety such as Russet, fully peeled, cubed
- 180 g blanched almond
- 80 g dry white wine
- 1600 mL light chicken stock
- 800 mL heavy cream
- lemon juice to taste
- kosher salt to taste
- pomegranate seeds, lemon zest, and fried rosemary leaves to garnish
- Sweat onions, garlic, and celery, in bacon fat. Once onions are starting to turn translucent, add potatoes and blanched almonds. Cook briefly.
- Add wine and bring to a simmer. Add light chicken stock to cover all the vegetables. Bring to a boil then simmer gently until potatoes are very tender.
- Purée to a very fine consistency in an upright blender. Add cream.
- Add lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Once ladled into bowls, garnish with pomegranate seeds, lemon zest, and fried rosemary leaves.
Yield: roughly 4 L white soup, enough for about 20 portions