Brown Windsor Soup? No, not really
Have you heard of that famous British dish, Brown Windsor Soup? You’ll see references to it on the internet. They’ll tell you that it was much beloved by Queen Victoria, hence the name.
They say that it was popularly served in Victorian British households and in plush railway dining cars. Oh, it was so popular, evidently. It was also horrible, they say, but the English, being notorious for their bland and disgusting food (haha) couldn’t get enough of it. But there’s problem.
Brown Windsor Soup didn’t exist
Far from liking bland, tasteless food, the British – and especially the Victorians – loved spicy foods.
In fact, the first Indian restaurant in London opened in 1810 – before Queen Victoria came to the throne. As queen, she employed Indian chefs and was known to appreciate hot and spicy Indian food over everything else.
There’s another glaring problem with this soup supposedly being the queen’s favourite, and therefore named after her – the family name of the British royal family wasn’t Windsor at all until 1917, it was Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. George V changed the German family name to Windsor in 1917 because of understandable anti-German feeling in the country.
So in fact, if the soup was named after Queen Victoria, we would have the rather unwieldy Brown Saxe-Coburg-Gotha Soup.
Brown Windsor Soup entered into British folklore. In the first half of the twentieth century it was supposedly routinely served in English seaside boarding houses and cheap hotels. The ‘Windsor’ part of the name gave it an air of gentility. So many people claim to remember eating it in their nasty boarding house in Blackpool or Brighton. Yet strangely, no recipe for the soup existed until recent times.
Mrs Beeton didn’t give a recipe for it. Now this is strange if it was such a staple of the Victorian diet. It wasn’t to be found in any cookbook and yet it was reputedly served throughout Britain.
Everyone who ‘remembers’ Brown Windsor Soup recalls it as being disgusting. So why was it so very popular and served so often?
The fact is that it wasn’t
The very first reference – anywhere – to the soup was in a 1943 novel by Monica Dickens. I suspect that she either invented the term or confused it with the genuine dish, White Windsor Soup – which had nothing to do with the royal family (having been devised prior to 1917) but referred to the Windsor variety of beans used.
Brown Windsor Soup is not to be found on any surviving menus – anywhere. It’s true that the cheaper hotels and boarding houses tended to serve a brown coloured soup. This was normally a frugal amalgamation of the previous day’s leftovers, but it was never referred to as Brown Windsor.
Just to confuse the issue, there was such a thing as Brown Windsor Soap. See the ad.
Spike Milligan and the Goons
In the 1950s though,people heard regularly about Brown Windsor Soup. Spike Milligan was the chief writer of (and also performer in) The Goon Show, a regular radio comedy. He used Brown Windsor Soup as a running gag. Thus, it became part of British folklore.
An army cook recalls making it in the late sixties – for the officers’ mess only, not the rank and file. But still there was no definitive recipe – and certainly not a Victorian one.
Before long, it developed into a symbol of awful English food – something we truly hated, but nevertheless ate. Inexplicably. Except it never existed.
In time, British chefs really did create the dish but this wasn’t until recently. Jamie Oliver, who champions British food extensively, created a soup he called Brown Windsor. But it certainly wasn’t based on an old recipe that was a favourite of Queen Victoria.
Here’s an example of the nonsense that is written on the web about this soup. This is taken from the recipe site (you know the one I mean) and is typical of the type of thing you will see. Bear in mind what you read above – there is no evidence what soever to show that this soup was even thought of before the middle of the twentieth century and the is certainly no reference to it in the carefully-preserved royal archives. It is on NO records pertaining to state banquets.
How strange that I lived (and ate – extensively) in England for forty years and never once came across Brown Windsor Soup – not in a restaurant (cheap, expensive or otherwise) or a canned version in any supermarket or grocery store.
Scones with soup??????
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