A very British stoup

One of the things I love about winter is the endless bowls of warming soup. Solid, honest food that wraps you in a fleece blanket and puts the fire on as you eat. Dried pulses, root veg and aliums seem to be grown for this form of cookery and you can almost feel it doing you good whilst you slurp out of a big heavy mug.

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The next choice for the Healthy Eating from History series is not so much a recipe as a flavour profile from a particular time and place. The 9th century to be exact, the Anglo Saxon / Viking era and the place is Yorvik. Archaeological finds have discovered small amounts of evidence regarding our diet and there is much documentation as to farming methods, in addition to knowledge regarding edible native plants.

Beans and peas have formed an important part of our diets for centuries, and it is believed to be the broad bean which was most commonly seen in Anglo Saxon England. Grown as a field crop they would be dried on the plant and stored throughout the year. Out of necessity, meals were meat free and beans provided an excellent source of protein in addition to complex carbohydrates. There is something ancient and nutritious about eating dried beans and other pulses and I am inevitably drawn to throwing them in my stoup. Mine were recently picked up from a Newcastle deli and are British grown by Hodmedods in the south.

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The second main ingredient for today is leeks. Anglo Saxons are thought to have eaten a lot of wild aliums, the family including leeks, garlic and chive. They would also have access to carrots and parsnips, both would be thin, woody and white in colour as orange carrots had not reached the shores of England. My recent vegetable bag from Goodness contained a combination of white and yellow carrots so I chop them up and toss them in too.

Last but not least I look to archaeological evidence from the dig sites in York’s Coppergate area for inspiration with flavourings. Samples of plant finds confirm the use of both coriander and dill in seed and probably leaf form. As dill is excellent with leeks and carrots I take this gently aniseed route. I also cheat with a vegetable stock cube, bay leaf and seasoning.

NB: In the photographs below you will have noticed a lamb bone peeking out of the top of the stoup. It was left over from a roast the day before and any viking cook would never let such a flavourful addition go to waste so neither did I. It was an added bonus and obviously should not stop you from having a go in the absence of a juicy bone!

Ingredients

250g dried broad beans or split peas
4 medium leeks
2 tsp dill seeds
2 carrots
Vegetable stock cube
2 small bay leaves
Optional: random left over bone

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Method

Place the beans in a large pot and cover with plenty of water. Soak overnight.

The next day wash and slice the leeks. Fry gently in a large pan. Do not brown.

Whilst the leeks are cooking, chop the carrots and add to the pan along with the dill seed.

Cover the contents of the pan with one litre of water and stir in the vegetable stock cube and bay leaves. Bring to the boil then simmer for about an hour.

Towards the end of cooking time use a spoon to press and break up the broad beans. This releases the starch and thickens the stoup as you stir. Serve in whatever vessel you prefer.

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