BEETHOVEN – BREAD SOUP
“Beethoven’s favourite dishes included a bread soup, cooked to a mush, which he looked forward to every Thursday. With it, ten large eggs had to be presented to him on a plate, which he, before they were stirred into the liquid, probed investigative against the light, broke himself and, on account of the freshness, sniffed carefully. Willed fate that he discovered amongst them some with the so-called straw smell, the spectacle broke loose. A thunderous word summoned the landlady to court, who, well knowing which way the wind blew, lent the cussing and swearing but half an ear, prepared for a wise retreat when the cannonade would begin and the decapitated malefactors, like bombs from well manned batteries, would come down on her back and let their yellow-white, sticky inner lava flow over it.”
Ignaz von Seyfried*, a friend of Beethoven’s, describes what should have been an enjoyable meal in the “Anhang” of his book “Beethoven’s Studien im General Basse”.
*Ignaz von Seyfried (1776-1841) was pianist, conductor and one of the most succesful theater composers in Vienna. He was a pupil of Mozart and Albrechtsberger and the successor of Emanuel Schikaneder as Kapellmeister of the “Theater an der Wien” during the period 1798 – 1828. In 1805 Von Seyfried conducted the first performance of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio.
Beethoven loved soup, especially bread soup. It was a simple dish of bread, cooked in a broth, eaten by simple, common folk. In cookbooks from Beethoven’s time we find several recipes for this soup. In Elizabeth Stöckel’s “The bürgerliche Küche” (The burgher’s kitchen) for instance, we read: “Sautée a piece of bacon with some finely chopped onion and parsley in the fat skimmed off from a beef broth. Add some thinly sliced bread and let it soak in a good broth. Now break as many eggs over it as there are guests at the table, season it with pepper and serve”. According to Elisabeth you may garnish the bread soup with small birds roasted in onions and bread crumbs.
An older recipe comes from the “Wienerisches Bewährtes Koch-Buch” by Ignaz Gartler and Barbara Hikmann, first published in 1768 and repeatedly reprinted over the next six decades. In this recipe for “Schwarze Brod-Suppen” (black bread soup) you take a good, clear broth of peas**, add some thinly sliced parsley root and cook it until tender. Then you take some thinly sliced black bread and pour hot lard over it. When the moment for serving has come you pour the hot broth over it, well seasoned with salt and pepper, let it soak for a few minutes and serve it with poached eggs.
**Pea broth is, according to Elisabeth Stöckel’s book, made by cooking dried peas with an onion until tender, rubbing them through a sieve and mix in some in butter fried flour or breadcrumbs. The mash obtained is subsequently diluted with as much water as needed.
The 1828 reprint of Gartler and Hikmann’s book, entitled “Allgemein Bewährtes Wiener Kochbuch”, was edited by a Mr. J. G. Zenker, “proven chemist and first cook of His Serene Highness the Prince von Schwarzenberg.” Under the entry “bread soup” we now find a different recipe: “The bread soup of the country folk, were a half, finely chopped onion in lard or other fat is fried until yellow, then boiled with two measures of water and thin slices of black bread. Finally, seasoned with chopped parsley, chives, salt and pepper, gives a pleasant, nutritious dish. Cooked with a fatty beef broth instead of water, it is extraordinarily tasty.”
With the more expensive white bread instead of the common dark, this soup was (and is) called “panadelsuppe”, from the word “panadel”, which in the Viennese patois means a slice of a hard white roll, a “Semmel”. With all this information, we should be able to brew a soup which would undoubtedly have pleased Beethoven.
BEETHOVEN’S BREAD SOUP
1 lt. (2 pt.) beef broth
2 tbsp. butter
bread (white, light- or dark brown, as you like it, and it may be stale)
eggs, 1 à 2 p.p. (Beethoven’s ten eggs would be fatal for a normal person)
Cut the onions finely. Let the fat melt in a soup pot and fry the onions gently until translucent and slightly brown. Add the beef broth and bring it to a boil. Cut the bread into pieces and put them in the soup. The more bread you use, the thicker your bread soup will be. Let it simmer until cooked to a mush.
Spoon the soup into plates and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve together with a platter or basket with the eggs, which the guests, after thorough inspection, may break over their soup themselves.