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.

Virginia Batter Bread

Here’s a delightful wartime recipe for Virginia Batter Bread from Mrs. Robert S. Bradley’s Cook Book: Helpful Recipes for War Time (1917). Mrs. Bradley urges the reader to practice the most careful economy when it comes to foodstuffs: “There is need,” she writes, “for every form of economy that will save an ounce of food, and every cook is drafted to this universal service.” She urges the reader to follow “Hoover’s Rules” for economy:

1. Save the Wheat.
2. Save the Meat.
3. Save the Milk.
4. Save the Fats.
5. Save the Sugar.
6. Save the Fuel.
7. Use the Perishable Foods.
8. Use Local Supplies.

Certainly Mrs. Bradley’s recipe for Virginia Batter Bread is representative of the economy that should be practiced in the wartime kitchen (though, it is a bit heavy on the dairy). Below is the recipe as it appears in her book.

Virginia Batter Bread

1 cup boiled rice
1 pint milk
1/2 pint Southern white corn meal
2 eggs
Piece of butter a size of an egg
Pinch of salt

The batter should be put with the rice when boiled and drained and still hot. Use when cold. Beat the other ingredients together then beat in the rice. Pour the mixture into a greased baking dish and bake one hour. Serve hot.

From Alaska: Sourdough Pancakes

In Alaska one could find frontier cooking at its best. Rugged prospectors combined their culinary skills with those of the native Eskimos, whipping up hearty dishes of game, fish, wild plants and sourdough breads. The typical dinner of an Alaskan prospector featured such exotic delicacies as caribou, moose, rabbit and bear. Sometimes, when the fishing was good, the dinner table was graced with king crab or ruby red salmon and rainbow trout. For dessert prospectors and frontiersmen enjoyed blueberry pies and huckleberry preserves — nutritious gifts harvested from deep within the Alaskan forests.

But baked goods made from sourdough were perhaps the most treasured treats of the prospector, who guarded his bubbling pot of sourdough starter with the utmost caution. According to Mary Kellogg Sullivan, in her book The Trail of a Sourdough: Life in Alaska (1910), the term “sourdough” referred to “a miner who has spent one winter in Alaska and ‘has seen the ice go out.'” This picturesque way of describing a hardened and experienced miner’s life suggested that he lived entirely beyond the pale of civilization, so much so that he was forced to rely on bread made from fermented potatoes and flour — Alaskan sourdough.

“Sourdough” by Fred Machetanz (1908-2002)

Here’s a recipe for sourdough pancakes from You can purchase an authentic Alaskan (from a Yukon prospector, at that!) sourdough starter from Serve your pancakes with a blueberry conserve or maple syrup.

Sourdough Pancakes


The night before, mix well (to incorporate some air) 1 cup of sourdough starter with 1½ cups of all purpose flour and 1 cup of warm water (85°-90°). Leave at warm room temperature (70°-85°) overnight, covered well with plastic wrap.

The next morning, return 1 cup of the starter mixture to the fridge.

Then mix the remaining 1½ cups of starter with

1 egg, slightly beaten
1 Tablespoon of sugar (or more if you like)
1 Tablespoon of melted butter
¾ Teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon (generous) of baking soda
2 Tablespoons of milk

Try to have your ingredients at room temperature. This will help to make more tender pancakes.

Bake on a 400° griddle. Enjoy!