Harleian MS 279 Oyle Soppys - Oil Sops - Onion Soup

Oil Sops

Two recipes caught my eye when researching pottages, Soupes Dorroy, and Oyle Soppys.  Both recipes start with onions, but each produces a very different dish.  The recipes for both of these items can be found at "Two fifteenth-century cookery-books. Harleian ms. 279 (ab. 1430), & Harl. ms. 4016 (ab. 1450), with extracts from Ashmole ms. 1429, Laud ms. 553, & Douce ms. 55" Thomas Austin

One of the differences between Soupes Dorroy and Oyle Soppys is the broth.  Soupes dorroy uses wine and almond milk to create the broth. However, Oyle soppys uses a broth made from beer, specifically "stale ale" or, in my assumption, ale that has lost its fizz, not necessarily ale that has gone bad...ewww!

Beer is one of the oldest beverages, and it is believed that with the invention of beer and bread, came the building blocks of civilization.  Yay yeast! One of the oldest beer recipes is "The Hymn to Ninkasi", a Sumerian recipe for how to make beer from the 19th century BC--that's 3900 years old. There is some speculation that the recipe advises that soaked grains are mixed with bread and water, allowed to ferment and that this is what creates the beer. Also note--there are no hops used to brew this beer!

Yeast is important to the process of making beer and leavened breads.   Earliest breads were very simply dishes made from ground cereal grains and water.  The earliest evidence of flour dates to approximately 30,000 years ago, where cereal grains and animal proteins and fats constituted a majority of the diet. The earliest domesticated grans were wheat and barley.  Leavened breads may have existed in prehistoric times, as wild yeast would have been present on cereal grains, and any dough that would have been left would have risen naturally.  However, the earliest confirmed evidence of yeast, being used as both a leavening agent and in brewing ale dates to Egypt about 4000 B. C. Beer was introduced into Europe approximately 55 B.C. by the Roman legions.

Bread and beer were two staples of the Middle ages and were considered important enough to be regulated.  "The Assize of Bread and Ale  (Assisa panis et cervissuae)" was the first law to regulate the production and sale of food.  It dates back to approximately 1266-1267. Regulations included the grades of flour, purity of flour (bran content and grain mix), weight of loaves by measurement of silver currency (pound, shilling, pence, half and quarter-pence loaves), adulteration of bread with inedible substances (sawdust or hemp) and the punishments for lawbreakers. Similarly, Ale was regulated by price of the gallon, price of the wheat, barley and oats.
"Assisa Panis (Assize of Bread): When a Quarter of Wheat is sold for 12d., then Wastel Bread of a farthing shall weigh £6 and 16s. But Bread Cocket of a farthing of the same grain and bultel, shall weigh more than Wastel by 2s. And Cocket Bread made of grain of lower price, shall weigh more than Wastel by 5s. Bread made into a Simnel shall weigh 2s. less than Wastel. Bread made of the whole Wheat shall weigh a Cocket and a half, so that a Cocket shall weigh more than a Wastel by 5s. Bread of Treet shall weigh 2 wastels. And bread of common wheat shall weigh two great cockets."
I have to admit, I was confused by reading this.  However, a little more research and my concerns were addressed. The weight of each loaf of bread is estimated not in "pounds and ounces" but in the number of shillings and pence it would take to balance the scales. The weight of the bread varied with the cost of the wheat. The bread referred to above, should weigh approximately 17 ounces (not 6 pounds). However, in May of 1555, when the cost of the wheat per quarter was 18d, the weight of the bread was 10 ounces.

.xxxiij. Oyle Soppys. — Take a gode quantyte of Oynonys, an mynse hem not to smale, an sethe in fayre Water : J'an take hem vp, an take a gode quantite of Stale Ale, as .iij. galouns, an J'er-to take a pynte of Oyle fryid, an caste J^e Oynonys J'er-to, an let boyle alle to-gederys a gode whyle ; then caste J'er-to Safroune, powder Pepyr, Sugre, an Salt, an serue forth alle bote as tostips, 'as in J'e same maner for a Mawlard & of a capon, & hoc qiicsre^

33 Oil Sops - Take a good quantity of onions, an mince them not to small, an boil in fair water: Than take them up and take a good quantity of Stale Ale, as 3 gallons, and there-to take a pint of oil **cold, an cast the onions there-to, an let boil all together a good while: then caste there-to saffron, powder pepper, sugar, an salt, an serve forth all about as toast tips, as in the same manner for a mallard & a capon, and see this.

**Note: I have chose to use the interpretation of cold for the word fryid, which is similar in spelling to fride in the recipe Harleian MS 279 xij - Fride Creme of Almaundys.  The word is similar to Froid, in French, which means cold.

Interpreted Recipe                                                                 

1 C. sliced onions
1 C. beer
2 tsp. oil (I used olive oil)
Pinch of sugar and saffron
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 Slices of bread cut into rounds

Boil the onions in the water until tender.  While the onions or boiling heat the beer, saffron, salt, pepper and onion.  Drain the onions and add them to the beer. Let these cook together approximately ten minutes or so.  Meanwhile, toast the bread, put one full slice of bread into your bowl. Pour your soup over the bread, and garnish with the second round, cut into triangles.

I *liked* this soup, although I found it a bit bland.  My teenage non-SCA taste testers also enjoyed it, and as I am typing this up they are finishing it. The one thing I would do differently is to cook the onions in the beer directly and skip the boiling in the water first, but I like the taste of onions, and I missed that.

This would be a very economical dish to serve at an event.