1796 | London

Prix Fixe

How to make a very cheap soup.

Take of water eight gallons, and mixing with it five pounds of barley meal, boil it to the consistency of a thick jelly. Season it with salt, pepper, vinegar, sweet herbs, and four red herrings, pounded in a mortar.  Instead of bread, add to it five pounds of Indian corn made into samp, and stirring it together with a ladle, serve it up immediately in portions of twenty ounces.

Samp, which is here recommended, is a dish said to have been invented by the savages of North America, who have no corn mills. It is Indian corn deprived of its external coat by soaking it ten or twelve hours in a lixivium of water and wood ashes. It is even better than bread for these purposes, for besides being quite as palatable as the very best bread, as it is less liable than bread to grow too soft when mixed with these liquids, without being disagreeably hard, it requires more mastication, and consequently tends more to increase and prolong the pleasure of eating.

The soup that may be prepared with the quantities of ingredients mentioned in the foregoing receipt will be sufficient for sixty-four portions:

For 5 lb. of barley meal, at 1½ pence........7½
5 lb. of Indian corn, at 1¼ pence.........6¼
4 red herrings......3
Pepper and sweet herbs......2

Total 20¾

This sum, divided by sixty-four, gives something less than one-third of a penny for the cost of each portion. At the medium price of barley in Great Britain, I am persuaded that this soup may be provided at one farthing the portion of twenty ounces.

About This Text

Benjamin Thompson, Count of Rumford, from “Receipt for a Very Cheap Soup.” Born in Massachusetts in 1753, Thompson was a royalist spy during the American Revolution. He was knighted by King George III in 1784 and then entered the Bavarian civil service. An advocate for relief of hunger, he established the first modern soup kitchens. By the end of the eighteenth century, soup kitchens operating on Thompson’s principles were feeding sixty thousand people daily in London.