Alice in Wonderland has to be one of the best loved children’s books ever written. Everybody loves Alice, the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and the March Hare. Maybe you have a soft spot for the Dormouse or Bill the lizard? Maybe you’re such a big fan that you’re now into weird cosplay (it happens). Personally, I always loved the part with the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle; though, as a small child the Mock Turtle was a confusing creature. Why did he have a calf’s head? Why the obsession with soup? Well…
…the book was published in 1865, a time when class and status were everything. Turtle soup was the trendy starter of choice at snobby dinner parties. According to Mrs Beeton, the green fat was of particular relish to epicures (eww!). The upper middle class types wanted to imitate the toffs, the middle class types wanted to imitate the upper middle class types, and so on. At the prohibitive cost of 2s per pound not everybody could afford fresh, or even tinned, turtle. What to do then? Veal meatballs were already part of the recipe, so it was a case of keeping the flavourings exactly as they were, but upping the veal content using a calf’s head. You can see what Lewis Carrol did there, right?
The thought of skinning and boiling up a calf’s head is only marginally less icky and gross than the thought of eating turtle with it’s lovely squishy green fat (eww again!). Instead my dears, try this warming spicy sweetcorn soup, perfect for a blustery September day and guaranteed no brains or endangered sealife.
Spiced Sweetcorn soup
Based on a recipe from Delicious Magazine. Serves 4.
- 4 large corn cobs
- 6 slices of streaky bacon
- 2 medium potatoes
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 onion
- ½ to 1tsp of chilli flakes or similar (I used Korean red pepper powder)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 litre of chicken stock (from a stock cube is fine)
- ½ oz (15g) butter
Cube the potatoes, slice the onion and crush the garlic. Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels off three of the corn cobs.
In a large saucepan, heat a little olive oil and soften the onion until lightly golden round the edges. Add the crushed garlic and chilli flakes and cook for a minute more.
Add the potatoes, bay leaves and chicken stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 mins or until the potato is soft.
Pro tip: for more flavour add two of the stripped corn cobs to the boiling soup.
Meanwhile, grill the bacon until it is nice and crispy. Chop into smallish pieces and put to one side. Cut the kernels off the remaining corn cob. In a small frying pan, melt the butter and fry the remaining corn kernels until golden and caramelised.
Blend the soup till smooth (removing the bay leaves and the stripped cobs first). Divide between bowls and sprinkle with the chopped bacon and caramelised corn. Serve with a good fresh crusty bread. I used Tesco’s corn bread, it seemed fitting.
Lewis Carroll was a total grammar nazi, going so far as to insist that can’t should be written as ca’n’t, won’t as wo’n’t etc, as these are (in theory) more “correct”.