Rumford's soup - how the earl invented soup for the poor

Even connoisseurs of the work of the famous economist of the century before last, Karl Marx, are surprised when they are told that one culinary recipe is given in his fundamental work "Capital". Marx cites this recipe as an example of the ways in which greedy capitalists are trying to feed their workers cheaper, and points out the author's name: "One American fluff, raised to the baronial rank of Yankee Benjamin Thompson, aka Earl of Rumford."

So who is this Count of Rumfort? This most interesting person at different periods of his life was not only a scientist, but also a public figure, inventor, military man, and social reformer. And always an adventurer.

Benjamin Thompson was born on a farm in Massachusetts in 1753. From childhood, the guy strove for independence and was drawn to knowledge. At the age of 13, he worked as a store assistant, later as a physician assistant in Woburn. And at the age of 19, apparently decided to choose a shorter path to wealth and fame, successfully marrying a rich widow, thanks to which he entered secular society.

A revolution was brewing in America at this time, which eventually led to the liberation of the English colonies from the rule of the king. Thompson sided with the metropolis, spied on the revolutionaries (and developed sympathetic ink to write reports to the British), but came close to being exposed. He fled to Britain with the retreating colonial troops, leaving his wife and child forever.

In England, services to the crown helped him secure a place in the Office of the Colonies. Administrative duties left a lot of free time, and Thompson began measuring the strength of various types of gunpowder, as well as the recoil of guns and cannons, for which he was elected an academician - a member of the prestigious Royal Society. His research attracted the attention of admirals, and the renowned scientist was invited to take measurements of the firing range at sea. At the same time, Thompson made improvements in shipbuilding and signaling methods in the fleet.

The talented self-taught man had to leave England when a French spy was arrested there and there were suspicions that the newly-made academician was also involved in the case. No evidence was found, but Thompson thought it best to return to America, where the revolutionary war was going on, with the task of recruiting volunteers for the British army. After the final defeat of the British, he again sailed to Europe, served as a mercenary in various troops, managed to gain confidence in the Elector of Bavaria and became his court adviser on military affairs. Unhappy with his modest position, Benjamin Thompson returned to London for a short time, achieved an audience with the king and, acting in the spirit of the Marquis de Carabas from a famous fairy tale, managed to convince him that the title of adviser at the Bavarian court must be balanced by some kind of English title, otherwise it turns out somehow indecent for a subject of His Majesty. And even the authority of the crown may suffer.

In the capital of Bavaria - Munich, he returned already Colonel Sir Benjamin Thompson. By the way, the monetary allowance of the English colonel was higher than the salary of an adviser to the Kur-fürst. And Thompson, not wanting to lose his old skills, also spied a little on England in Bavaria, which also reflected well on his budget.

In Bavaria, he reorganized the army, invented a new thermometer and with its help discovered convection currents of air and liquids, and also undertook a study of the heat-insulating properties of various fabrics, choosing material for uniforms for the Bavarian army. Here Thompson made his most famous discovery. Observing the reaming of the cannon barrels, he noticed that the metal was heating up during drilling. With a series of ingenious experiments, the scientist refuted the then dominant theory of caloric (it was believed that heat is a special liquid that is latent in bodies and is lost as it cools) and thus laid the foundations of thermodynamics.

But it's time to get back to the soup.

In the late 80s of the 18th century, watching with concern the revolutionary events in France, Thompson felt that for the safety of any state it was necessary to remove from the streets crowds of beggars and vagabonds who were always ready to participate in any mess. Beggars constituted at that time 5% of the population of the Bavarian capital. They formed a special corporation with strict laws, distribution of roles and “hunting grounds”. On the first day of the new year, 1790, when, according to the tradition, crowds of vagrants from all over Bavaria arrived in Munich to collect alms, they were surrounded by the army and everyone was sent to a new institution, invented by Thompson on the model that had existed in England for almost a hundred years - a workhouse with a military discipline and a strict daily routine. Moreover, the arrest of the first beggar was made by the mister court councilor himself. In the new institution, the vagabonds were given shelter, work for the benefit of the state (spinning, weaving, sewing uniforms and shoes for the army), they were fed and even provided them and their children with some education. The principle was applied to those who did not know how and did not want to do anything: “If you cannot, we will teach, if you don’t want, we will force”. One of the local manufacturers, who had lost a rich army order, tried to challenge the innovation, but was soon beaten by unknown persons in a dark corner of Munich and dropped all claims.

For many services to Bavaria, by 1791, the American became a major general, minister of defense, minister of police and chamberlain of the court. And having hinted that in England he was a lord and sir, he soon received the title of Earl of Rumford, after the name of one of the American towns where he lived in his youth for some time.

But hundreds of workhouse dwellers need something to feed, and preferably something cheaper and more satisfying. The same, incidentally, applies to the army. Thompson approached the problem like a true scientist. He experimented on soldiers and workhouse dwellers for five years. At the same time, the count was guided by the then prevailing theory of the alchemist Jan van Helmont, according to which the main food of plants is water. In a plant, it decomposes into its constituent parts, and plant matter is built from them. "The manure with which plants are fertilized, " wrote the count, "serves more to prepare water for decomposition than to directly nourish the plant." The same, Rumford believed, is true for animals, only here the "catalyst", as we would say today, the decomposition of water is not manure, but solid food substances. From this he made the logical conclusion that the best and most nutritious dish would be soup. Experiments on soldiers' stomachs confirmed this: "I was surprised a lot that a very small amount of solid food, properly prepared, satisfies hunger, maintains life and health." Experiments have yielded a recipe for “the cheapest, tastiest, most nutritious food imaginable. It is a soup consisting of pearl barley, peas, potatoes, finely chopped white bread, vinegar, salt and water in certain proportions. ” Further, the scientist describes in detail how to cook this soup, in which cauldrons, how and in what portions (pint and a quarter, that is, about 700 milliliters) to distribute it ... And even how to eat it: for better assimilation, you need to eat slowly. Dried white bread slices, added at the last moment, serve to force the eater to chew hard, slow down the eating process and thereby increase the nutritional value of the soup.

The count suggested several options for the soup, including adding cheaper sour beer instead of vinegar (he did not know that beer contains B vitamins, which undoubtedly increased the value of the dish). There were options of different prices: with meat, and with smoked herring pounded in a mortar (a source of vitamin D), and with corn.

Although the original recipe for 1000-1200 people indicated very large measures of weight and volume, in one of Rumford's works there is also a recipe for his soup for one person.

Requires an ounce of barley, an ounce of dry yellow peas, three ounces of potatoes, a quarter ounce of white croutons, salt to taste, half an ounce of vinegar, and 14 ounces of water (28.5 g oz). To quote from an article titled "On Food":

“Place water with barley in a kettle and bring to a boil. Then add the peas and simmer over low heat for about two hours. After that, add the potatoes (pre-peeled with a knife or boiled so that the skin peels off easier), and simmer for another hour, and often stir the contents of the pot with a large wooden spoon or a veil to destroy the texture of the potatoes and turn the soup into a single mass without lumps. When done, add vinegar and salt, and add dry bread slices just before serving. It is important that this bread does not boil in the soup. ”

By the way, about potatoes. Earl Rumford initiated its introduction into the diet of the Germans. In Bavaria, potatoes were not consumed at that time, and Rumford had to secretly, in a sack, carry potatoes into the kitchen, and he trusted to cook them only to reliable chefs who would not say a word. A few months later, when it was already fully proven on beggars and vagabonds that potatoes are not poisonous, Rumford admitted to using them, and since then the Bavarians have been eating potatoes. He also advocated the introduction of other unconventional cheap and hearty dishes - polenta (steeply cooked porridge made from corn grits) and pasta, which were then almost unknown in Germany and England. In fact, he became the founder of dietetics - the science of nutrition.

At the same time, the count invented potato salad with sunflower oil and vinegar, which is still popular today, a portable coffee maker (he recommended coffee to the working masses as a substitute for alcohol), an economical stove, a simple but accurate photometer, a new model of a bright oil lamp, an efficient type of fireplace produced by and now...

Rumford's Chowder became the basis for feeding the soldiers of almost all armies until the middle of the 20th century.

But here's a modern recipe for this soup from the recently published Bavarian Cookbook.

Serves 4: 150 g peas, 1.25 liters vegetable or meat broth, 1 small green pepper, 40 g pearl barley, 1 small potato (not crumbly), 50 g finely chopped cooked smoked ham, 1 onion, 1 garlic clove, 1 bunch of soup roots, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice, a little chopped parsley, salt and pepper - to taste.

Bring the pea stock to a boil and keep it over low heat in a covered saucepan. Cut the pepper in half, remove the seeds and petiole, wash, cut into strips and, along with the pearl barley, throw into a saucepan. Boil all this again and leave for 10 minutes over low heat. Meanwhile, wash the potatoes, peel them, cut them into cubes, toss them into the soup and cook for another 15 minutes. Cut the ham into strips, finely chop the roots. Chop the onion and garlic and fry together with the ham and roots over low heat in oil for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add them to the soup along with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pour the soup into bowls with a pinch of chopped parsley each. The soup goes well with black bread.

It remains to be said that the eminent scientist and adventurer passed away in France at the age of 61. The eulogy was delivered by the secretary of the French Academy of Sciences, the great biologist Georges Cuvier. After listing the merits of the deceased, Cuvier added: "Not loving or respecting his fellow humanity, he still rendered them many services."