When I found a recipe for Pocket Soup (or Portable Soup) I new I had to make it. From both a historical and modern perspective, it interested me, as Pocket Soup is the original bouillon. Today's bouillon is loaded with ingredients that are not good for you, and minimally nutritious. Here was an opportunity to rediscover a way to "do it yourself" from food items you could source yourself. It's not so different from the culinary "Glace De Viande" prepped by chefs, except it takes it one step further -- to the drying stage so it can be transported and reconstituted easily without refrigeration.
One of the Original Recipes:
Take three legs of veal and one of beef, with ten pounds of lean ham, all cut very small, put a quarter of a pound of butter at the bottom of a large pot or cauldron, and the meat and ham in, with four ounces of anchovies, two ounces of mace, a bunch of celery, six carrots washed well, a large bunch of sweet herbs, a spoonful of whole pepper, and a hard crust of a penny loaf; sweat it over a slow fire till you find all the juices are drawn out of the meat, then cover it with boling water, and skim it well; let it boil gently for four or five hours, then strain it off to settle, pour it into a pot, and boil it till it is a strong jelly, and as stiff as glue, season it with Cayan pepper and salt, then pour it into little tin moulds; let it stand till cold, then turn it out on plates, and dry it in the sun, or at a great distance before the fire, keep turning it often till it is quite dry; then put it in tin boxes, with a piece of writing paper between each cake; put them in a dry place for use. This is a very useful soup for travellers, or large families; for by putting one small cake into a pint of boiling water, and giving it a boil up, it will make a pint of good soup; or a little boiling water poured on a cake, will make a good gravy for a turkey or two fowls. It possesses one good quality, it never loses any of its virtue by keeping."
---The New Art of Cookery According to Present Practice, Richard Briggs [W. Spotswood, R. Campbell and B. Johnson:Philadephia] 1792 (p. 52-53)
The Date/Year and Region: 1792, England.
How I Made It
Before making this, I researched everything I could get my hands on, from historical recipes, to modern methods for making "Glace De Viande," and "Bone Soup," the two latter producing a jelly-like end product -- which could be sliced and stored for later in the freezer. I found the similarities in all were the need for some basic ingredients: meaty soup bones (integral for making the gelatinous mass), some vegetables and seasonings. For historical Pocket Soup, I would take it one step further and dry or dehydrate the gel.
In keeping with the 1792 recipe, I chose to use a combination of beef and veal. I used two big beef knuckle bones and breast of veal (pretty much all rib bones), a much smaller and more manageable quantity than called for in the recipe.
In order to save time slaving over a stove for hours, I also used my pressure cooker. Since there's information on the internet about how pressure steaming was also used historically to make pocket soups, this seemed a natural, time saving gift.
Here's my recipe:
Dezi's Pocket Soup
3.5 lbs. meaty beef knuckle bones
1.5 lbs. breast of veal, almost all rib bones
1/2 large red onion, sliced, with skin on
1 large garlic clove, with skin on
1 handful of baby carrots
2 outer stalks of celery
2 TB vinegar (Any kind. I read that vinegar is necessary to extract the maximum
amount of nutritional goodness from the bones.)
salt and pepper to season
enough water to cover ingredients (about 1/2 gallon)
Using a pressure cooker, turn the heat up and brown your meat bones in a bit of butter after lightly seasoning with salt and pepper. This will take a bit of time, as you need to brown just a few pieces at a time, but it replaces baking in the oven for an hour. After browning all of the pieces, add the vegetables. Add enough pure water to just cover the ingredients, making sure you don't go over your fill line. Pressure cook for 90 minutes. Alternatively, if you're not using a pressure cooker, simmer on the stove, for 6 hours.
Remove all ingredients from the liquid, and strain the liquid through a cheesecloth to make a clear stock with no bits in it. Refrigerate the stock overnight, then remove any fat that has come to the top. (At this point it already may be jelled).
Place the remaining liquid in a heavy sauce pan and reduce down to consistency of molasses. Pour into a shallow pan (or into molds of your choice). Refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove the gel from the molds, or cut the mass into cubes. You can sun dry them, or dry them in a low temperature oven or dehydrator.
Time to Complete: Active - 3 hours; Passive - 2 days
Total Cost: $20
How Successful Was It?:
I would say it was very successful for my first try, until the last step, which was dehydration. The process went smoothly, and the gel formed effortlessly. The taste is delicious. It made a very nice soup base, and would work very well to be made into a sauce.
At this point, however, it's just like a Glace De Viande, very jiggly and jello-like, and the cubes would need to be frozen to keep. They are not solid enough on their own to withstand the heat of the dehydrator. I put a few of them in to test them, and they melted. Actually, just having them outside of the refrigerator, they began to soften up a lot in my 80 degree kitchen. So I'm not sure how one might dehydrate them; at least not with any heat. In the old recipes, they mentioned putting them next to the hearth to dry.
I'm testing a batch in the refrigerator, uncovered, to see if they will dehydrate well enough in the cool, open air.
How Accurate Is It?:
The "original" recipe I've shown above is only one of many listed from the 1600's and later. With recipes written at a time when they did not measure or give out exact quantities of ingredients, or used very large quantities, it's difficult to be accurate. So one needs to be creative and research to come up with a probable ingredient scenario. My guess is that my quantity of meaty bones was not enough, and that more are needed to produce a really thick, gelatinous mass as an end product able to withstand heat for dehydration.
When I decide to make another batch, I would use a larger quantity of meat and simmer over the traditional stove for the longest period of time possible -- so that there's more meat, less water and more simmering to concentrate the gel, to make what they historically called "glew" (glue).
Rosemary "Dezi" DeSiervi
I'm a foodie. I love well-prepared, good, healthy food. I'm also a home chef, and love to recreate recipes to fit my lifestyle and to fit into my pressure cooker for fast, aromatic eats. I've won some recipe contests for my creations. I also love old-fashioned things and times gone by, so I've gotten involved in researching historical recipes and methods. It's a lot of fun; always stimulating. I hope you'll join me here for some new ideas and just plain good eating.