Livingstone’s Party Sickens from Soup Glue – and How to Make it (18th C. Recipe)

One of the items that was often taken by 19th century explorers on their journeys was a quantity of what was called soup glue (or paste).  This was a highly condensed meat broth that was jellied, and then dried into sheets.  Liebig, in France, commercialized the product into a form that was quite popular.

The beef concentrate made by Liebig was immensely popular as a convenience product. Free cards were included with a purchase of the beef extract, many of which depicted colonial events, as this one.

Verso of the above card briefly discusses the colony of Senegal.

Here are a few entries about the product from descriptions of the time:

From Livingstone’s journals in the Zambesi River area, east-southern Africa:

After a land-journey of forty days, we returned to the ship [anchored in the Zambesi River, near the Indian Ocean] on the 6th of October, 1859, in a somewhat exhausted condition, arising more from a sort of poisoning, than from the usual fatigue of travel.

We had taken a little mulligatawney paste, for making soup, in case of want of time to cook other food. Late one afternoon, at the end of an unusually long march, we reached Mikena, near the base of Mount Njongone to the north of Zomba, and the cook was directed to use a couple of spoonfuls of the paste; but, instead of doing so, he put in the whole potful.

The soup tasted rather hot, but we added boiled rice to it, and, being very hungry, partook freely of it; and, in consequence of the overdose, we were delayed several days in severe suffering, and some of the party did not recover till after our return to the ship….

From: David Livingstone-A Popular Account of Dr. Livingstone’s Expedition to the Zambesi and its Tributaries and the discovery of Lakes Shirwa and Nyassa 1858-1864.  1866.

The following entries are from Richardson’s Travels in the Great Desert of Sahara, in the Years of 1845…

This entry is interesting in that it appears the Moors of North Africa made a similar product to take on caravan journeys:

 Their provisions [coming from Tripoli and heading south on the caravan route], in this case, consisted of barley-meal, olive-oil, a few loaves of wheaten bread, and a little dried paste for making soup. 

 The soup was made of a few onions, dried peppers, salt, oil, and the paste.  On first starting, some of the more respectable [travellers] had a few hard-boiled eggs, with which the Jews most frequently travel; and others had a little pickled fish.

When the paste was finished, the barley-meal was attacked, and when this was gone, the greater part lived on biscuits sopped in water…

 Another entry, on the way south towards Timbuctoo by caravan:

 This evening arrived the courier from Mourzuk [A large caravan town in southern Morroco], who took charge of a small packet of French patent soup, which I left behind.  Mr. Gagliuffi [British Vice-Consul of Mourzuk] had had this soup three years, and it was still very good. 

It is preserved in thin pieces like dried glue.  It requires only boiling with a little salt, and then is pretty  good.  In long Desert journeying it wuold be easy to take a supply of this sort of preserved soup, as well as potted meat. 

 On the address of the packet was, “Signore Richardson / Mr. Gagliuffi–God bless him.”

From:  James Richardson-Travels in the Great Desert of Sahara, in the Years of 1845…  1846.

 Several years ago I downloaded the following directions for making Soup Glue (1753 recipe), from The Old Foodie site.

To Make a Veal glue, or Cake to carry in the pocket

Take a Leg of Veal, strip it of the Skin and the Fat, then take all the muscular or fleshy Parts from the Bones; boil this Flesh gently in such a Quantity of Water, and so long a Time, till the Liquor will make a stong Jelly when it is cold;

This you may try by taking out a small Spoonful now and then, and letting it cool. Here it is to be supposed, that though it will jelly presently in small Quantities, yet all the Juice of the Meat may not be extracted;

however, when you find it very strong, strain the Liquor through a Sieve, and let it settle;

then provide a large Stew-pan, with Water, and some China Cups, or glazed Earthenware; fill these Cups with Jelly taken clear from the Settling, and set them in a Stew-pan of Water and let the Water boil gently till the Jelly becomes as thick as Glue;

after which, let them stand to cool, and then turn out the Glue upon a Piece of new Flannel, which will draw out the Moisture; turn them once in six or eight Hours, and put them upon a fresh Flannel, and so continue to do till they are quite dry, and keep it in a dray warm Place:

This will harden so much, that it will be stiff and hard as Glue in a little Time, and may be carried in the Pocket without Inconvenience.

You are to use this by boiling about a Pint of Water, and pouring it upon a Piece of the Glue or Cake, about the Bigness of a small Walnut, and stirring it with a Spoon till the Cake dissolves, which will make very strong good Broth.

As for the seasoning Part, every one may add Pepper and Salt as they like it, for there must be nothing of that Kind put among the Veal when you make the Glue, for any Thing of that Sort would make it mouldy.

As we have observed above, that there is nothing of Seasoning in this Soup, so there may be always added what you desire, either of Spices or Herbs, to make it savoury to the palate;

but it must be noted, that all the Herbs that are used on this Occasion, must be boiled tender in plain Water, and that Water must be used to pour upon the Cake Gravy instead of Simple Water.

So may a Dish of good Soup be made without Trouble, only allowing the Proportion of Cake Gravy answering to the aforesaid Direction: Or if Gravy be wanted for Sauce, double the Quantity may be used that is prescribed for Broth or Soup.

From: The Lady’s Companion, 1753


About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
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