Workhouse Soup and Cottage Loaves

The workhouses of Edwardian England served a most excellent split pea soup. Or so claims the 1906 Report of the Department Committee on Vagrancy. Under the Order of 1882 vagrants who intend to be short-term workhouse guests can dine on a spare dinner of bread and cheese, but to those planning to spend more than a day in the workhouse a dinner of bread and soup is offered — in rather exact and somewhat less than lavish portions. Six ounces of bread and a pint of soup go to warm the soul of the beggar, a person otherwise considered to be “a nuisance [who] infests the roads and threatens women and insists on having food when their husbands are absent, and all that sort of thing.” Such minutely observed economy must not divide the beggar from some basic sustenance, as meager as this might be.

And what goes into this bone-warming bit of comestible charity? According to the “Dietary Order” the “ingredients for pea soup in the workhouse are to each pint, three ounces of raw beef free from bone, two ounces of bones, two ounces of split peas, half an ounce of oatmeal, one ounce of vegetables, salt, pepper, and herbs to taste.”

As the Report indicates, workhouse soup goes well with bread. Try serving it with a cottage loaf, like this one from the 1905 Still Room Cookery: Recipes Old and New.

Cottage Loaf

Cottage loaves are formed from two balls of dough, a smaller and a larger, placed one on the top of the other. A hole is made through the top to connect the two, and 4 slits cut in the sides. The oven shelves must have been scrubbed previously and floured and the dough set down on them.

The loaves should stand in a warm place for 1/2 an hour and are then baked in a good oven, for the first 1/4 of an hour on the top shelf, and then moved to the centre shelf to bake another 1 1/4 hours. The loaves must stand on their sides to cool.

This recipe has been used for many years without a failure.

Household Bread (No. 2).

Another recipe made with Barm [the foam on top of beer and other fermented alcoholic beverages].

4 Ib. flour
1/2 pint warm water
1 pint of barm.

Put the flour into a basin, mix in a pinch of salt, make a hole in the centre and pour in the warm water, stir the barm in with it, shake a little flour over the top. Cover the basin with a cloth and let it stand in a warm place all night. At about 9 o’clock in the morning mix it with enough warm water to make a nice dough, and knead it well. Cover again with a cloth and let it stand for 2 hours. Make into loaves and bake.

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