While researching the history of bread pudding, I kept finding repeatedly the phrase "probably originated in the early 11th or 12th centuries" and was created by "frugal cooks looking to use up stale bread" but little evidence to support those references. However, I believe that this recipe from "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 offers support for bread being placed into custard as early as 1430. Lyode soppes is literally a sop of bread floating in a pool of beautifully thick and sweet custard and it is the last of the milk based pottages that I worked with this week. I believe that this is one of the earliest recipes for "bread pudding."
Lyode Soppes lacks many of the characteristics we think of when we think of bread puddings; there are no raisins, no cinnamon, it is lacking the creamy texture of what most modern diners would think of when they think of bread pudding. Lastly, it is not made in the oven.
The main component of lyode sops is the custard. Like papyns and creme boylede, it is made from milk and eggs, sweetened with sugar, tempered with just a bit of salt and cooked over low heat until thickened. Custard can trace its origins back to Ancient Rome. According to C. Ann Wilson, Romans "exploited eggs as a thickening or binding agent for other foods. They borrowed from the Greeks the idea of combining eggs with milk to form a custard mixture, which was either cooked very slowly in an earthenware pot, or fried in oil...Another kind of egg confection was made of fruit or vegetables, or fish or shredded meat, bound with eggs and lightly cooked in the open dish called a "patina." ...The "flathons" (flans), "crustards" and other open tarts of medieval cookery again recall the old "patinae," with the shallow open dish of the Romans replaced by an open pastry crust, and the filling once more mixed and bound with eggs."
.xxix. Lyode Soppes.—Take Mylke an boyle it, an þanne take ȝolkys of eyroun y-tryid fro þe whyte, an draw hem þorwe A straynoure, an caste hem in-to þe mylke, an sette it on þe fyre an hete it, but let it nowt boyle; an stere it wyl tyl it be somwhat þikke; þenne caste þer-to Salt & Sugre, an kytte fayre paynemaynnys in round soppys, an caste þe soppys þer-on, an serue it forth for a potage.
29 Lyode Sops- Take milk an boil it, an than take yolks of eggs separated from the white and draw them through a strainer, an cast them into the milk, an set it on the fire and heat it, but let it not boil, an stir it well till it be somewhat thick; then caste there-to salt & sugar, an cut fair bread in round sops, an cast the sops there-on, an serve it forth for a pottage.
Interpreted Recipe Serves 1 as main, 2 as side
3/4 C. milk
1/4 C. heavy cream
1 egg, or 2 egg yolks
1-2 tbsp. sugar (to your taste)
Salt to taste (I used about 1 scant tsp.)
Rounds of bread (I used Rastons)
Mix the heavy cream with the milk and add sugar, salt and egg. Place in a pot on the stove and cook over low heat until the mixture becomes thick. It is important that you keep the heat low because you don't want your custard to curdle. Meanwhile, put your round of bread into the bowl. I elected to not toast the bread as the recipe did not call for it. When the custard has thickened, pour it through a strainer onto the bread. I let mine sit for approximately five minutes before serving. The bread did soak up some of the moisture from the custard.
I was unsure how this dish would be received by my bevy of taste testers, and they received it much better than I expected they would. There were a few surprised looks as they tested this dish. The general consensus amongst the tasters is "it was good but not something they would want to try again." It is unusual and might fall into the category of "too period to serve at feast". I liked it but I can say that it was not to everyone's taste. Use your best judgment.
Custards are fussy dishes that require your attention. I would serve this as a small luncheon, or for breakfast. I would also add some additional flvaoring to this dish to evoke the "comfort food" flavors of modern bread puddings, for example- maybe a sprinkling of sweet powder before serving, or even garnish it with fruit.