This Christmas I received a lovely French cookbook as a gift. (Admittedly, I played more than a helping hand in its selection). The result – Recettes Faciles (Easy recipes) by Françoise Bernard. From what I gather, this is a classic recipe book given to sons and daughters across France when they first fly the parental coop. In New Zealand, our equivalent was the Edmonds Cookery Book. Every student flat worth its salt contained at least one copy. Surely there must be a British equivalent to this? Born and bred Brits, help me out here!
Last week’s post featured a delicious recipe for galette des rois which, while delicious, left me feeling stuffed and in need of something light and healthy for dinner. Françoise came to my rescue with this Soup of julienned vegetables – the perfect inaugural dish.
By any other name – Pottage? Soup? Chowder?
The title of this recipe gave me pause for thought. I realised I wasn’t sure of the difference between potage and soupe, nor what their equivalents might be in English. Let’s consider it together.
'Préparation plus ou moins liquide d'aliments bouillis (légumes, viande, etc.), en morceaux ou passés, qui se sert habituellement chaude, additionnée ou non de pâtes, au début du dîner.' Source: CNRTL
In sum, potage:
contains vegetables, meats, etc., and may contain pasta
is served chunky or blended
is eaten at the beginning of an evening meal
'Bouillon de légumes, de viandes, etc., généralement non passé et accompagné de pain ou de pâtes, que l'on sert au début du repas ou en plat unique. Source: CNRTL
In sum, soupe:
contains vegetables, meats, etc.
is generally not blended
is generally served with bread or pasta
is either eaten at the beginning of a meal or as a meal in its own right
It seems like soupe is considered heartier than a potage, since it can be eaten as a meal, with the accompanying bread or pasta ensuring it is sufficiently substantial.
What’s more, potage appears to be the more general term, or hypernym, as demonstrated below.
'Les potages dits clairs (ou consommés) sont liquides, alors que les potages dits liés sont plus ou moins épais (soupes, purées, crèmes, veloutés).'
Here, ‘clear’ potages (or consommés) are more liquid, or thinner, while ‘thickened’ potages are, as you might expect, thicker, and include: soupes, purées, crèmes, and veloutés.
English contender terms
'A thick soup or stew, typically made from vegetables, pulses, meat, etc., boiled in water until soft, and usually seasoned.' Source: the Oxford English Dictionary
'A liquid food prepared by boiling, usually consisting of an extract of meat with other ingredients and seasoning. Source: The Oxford English Dictionary
In contrast to the French, it seems that an English ‘soup’ is lighter than a ‘pottage’ – with its ‘extract of meat/other ingredients’ – while a ‘pottage’ is thicker.
Another term that sprung to mind was chowder, so I investigated that too.
'In Newfoundland, New England, etc.: A dish made of fresh fish (esp. cod) or clams, stewed with slices of pork or bacon, onions, and biscuit. ‘Cider and champagne are sometimes added’ (Bartlett).' Source: The Oxford English Dictionary
In fact, Word reference’s French suggestions for 'chowder' included soupe épaisse (thick soup), soupe, as well as a French equivalent, chaudrée, a new one to me.
'La chaudrée est la soupe de poissons traditionnelle du littoral saintongeais et vendéen, élaborée avec du muscadet. Pour varier, on peut également la servir avec des pommes de terre ou sur des tranches épaisses de pain de campagne.' Source: Cuisine A-Z
This French equivalent hails from the west of France, on the Atlantic Coast. As with chowder, it’s a fish soup, but unlike chowder, chaudrée is often cooked with Muscadet wine. It is sometimes served with potatoes or thick slices of bread.
How are these terms used in practice?
As well as dictionary definitions, it’s worth bearing in mind that ‘pottage’, isn't used very often in English. In fact, when searching online, many of the results referred to a medieval stew thickened with grains. Since this didn’t reflect my recipe at all, I decided not to use ‘Pottage’ or even the more French-ified ‘potage.’ There are also seem to be some regional variants of stew-like dishes which go by this name.
Why all the research?
After all that, I simply settled on ‘Soup’, which had been my solution at the outset. So, was this research a waste of time? Well, translators are naturally curious creatures. I, for one, am often fascinated by the facts I find along the way. What’s more, that nugget of information may well prove useful in the future. Translators and copywriters come across a huge array of different topics, even if they work within a few areas of specialism. Therefore, adding to your arsenal of knowledge can never be a bad thing.
Being a simple recipe, I faced no problems. I did swap a few ingredients with what I had to hand. I’m sure the author would have approved. Despite the recipe name, you’re instructed to grate the vegetables, rather than julienning them. In an accompanying note, the author explains that this speeds up the cooking and preparation process. I’d never thought of doing this for soup, but it’s a handy method to bear in mind when you’re short of time.
The end result was delicious and nutritious.
Another recipe from my new cookbook features. This one is simple yet hearty.