By Tracey Beck
From: Wolf, Rebekka. Kochbuch für israelitische Frauen : 9th revised edition. Frankfurt a. M. : J. Kauffmann, 1888. Library call number st 3568
This recipe for “Weißbiersuppe mit Gries” (wheat or white beer soup with semolina) is from from the ninth edition of Rebekka Wolf’s Kochbuch für israelitische Frauen. This particular recipe was presented as a variation on recipes for a wheat beer soup without semolina and a wine soup. Although the relationship between these recipes is a bit fuzzy in the book, I did my best to summarize them in translation below:
Boil a good, strong beer, but first only half; then do everything you would do with the wine soup: add a dash of salt, a piece of cinnamon, lemon peel, a little lemon juice (but not the seeds, since that will make the soup bitter), and just enough sugar to make it sufficiently sweet, and boil in a covered, earthen pot. Then you can also add some small, well-washed raisins. Mix the semolina with some cold water or beer then add the second half of the beer with the semolina to the soup. Add only enough semolina to make the soup creamy, but not thick. If you will be eating the soup with dairy entrées, you can add a piece of fresh butter with the semolina.
Because the directions incorporated three previous recipes, it was difficult to know which part of which recipe to follow. Exact measures were also absent from the recipe. Instead of cups, tablespoons or teaspoons, the directions use adjectives such as “sufficient.” I felt as if my grandmother had shown up after a big party, noticed all the leftover beer, and offered her thrifty advice on how to turn that leftover beer into a meal.
The sheer variety of soup recipes in Wolf’s book, each with one main ingredient and seasoned very simply, suggests an emphasis on helping housewives turn leftovers into palatable meals. Along with the wheat beer soup, Wolf wrote recipes for lemon soup, cherry soup, fresh plum soup, apple soup, and apple soup with bread. Not sure what to do with those last few remaining berries and those bread crumbs? Try a soup!
The recipe did not state how much beer to use, so I based my decision on packaging conventions and went with a six-pack. The directions stressed using a “good, strong” wheat beer. My local supermarket offered a multitude of “good, strong” beers, mostly micro-brews in neat, stylishly-labeled bottles. I chose to use Blue Moon for this recipe, a brand of unfiltered wheat beer owned by the MillerCoors corporation.
Since the recipe had no exact measurements, it was difficult to know if I had added the right amount of each ingredient. There were no instructions on how long to boil the soup, how hot it should have been, or whether the alcohol was meant to cook off. I added the grated zest of an entire lemon and some ground cinnamon.
I served the the soup when it seemed ready, but my guests were unenthusiastic with the results. One guest referred to the completed dish as “gruel.” The overall consensus was that the soup was “interesting” and generally edible. No one asked for seconds.
So much goes unwritten in Wolf’s recipes that they seem aimed at cooks with more experience (or more time to experiment). After this trial I suppose I am a little closer to joining their ranks, so I can offer the following advice. The soup will be smoother and less bitter if you use whole cinnamon bark and remove it and the lemon before they become overpowering. Try serving it on a cold night – it is reminiscent of Glühwein. Finally, a six-pack is too much; Wolf offers no tips on what to do with leftover beer soup.