Last night I volunteered from 11pm to 6 am at Out of the Cold – a shelter system that moves from church to church throughout the week. I came home in nice crisp weather and woke up at noon to snow on the ground! It has made me think about comparisons between this community in 1906 and today in 2012.
Berlin (Kitchener) was a prosperous community in 1906 just as it is 2012 and yet both eras have poverty. Berlin had an orphanage, a poor house, and a jail in 1906. Individuals and churches also provided charitable assistance for individuals. Some of the contributors to the 1906 Berlin Cook Book likely grew up in homes with very little while others had lives of plenty.
The Dana Porter Library at the University of Waterloo has the account book from a local grocer that covers just a few years in the early 1890s. It is too early to be of use for this project but it still gives an interesting picture of what people purchased. One of the accounts listed is for the jail (gaol) showing this institution used a lot of potatoes. The poor houses tried to be self-sufficient but they would also purchase things from local retailers. Since potatoes were such a big part of the diet of the poor, I decided to make Cream Potato Soup using a recipe contributed by Mrs. L. J. Breithaupt.
I decided to make just half the recipe so I peeled five potatoes instead of ten. I cut them in chunks and put them in a pot with just enough water to cover. I boiled until I could piece the largest chunks with a fork. I removed the potatoes, keeping the water in the pot. I actually own a potato ricer. I bought it for this project since a few recipes call for one. I soon learned not to over fill the “basket” of the ricer since it takes a lot of strength to pull the handles together to rice the potatoes. I kept going until all of the potato was riced and back in the potato cooking water.
Meanwhile as I riced I was melting butter (half the size of an egg) and adding 1/2 a cup of flour. I’ve heard of this thickening technique but rarely tried it. It is important to keep an eye on the flour to avoid burning. Once the potatoes were riced I added two cups of milk to the potato mixture and left it to heat slowly. Once the flour had browned i slowly stirred it into the soup and again let it thicken a bit. I added pepper and salt — quite a bit of salt as potatoes seem to make salt disappear. In fact, I’ve heard that if you’ve added too much salt to something it can be removed by adding a potato to whatever you’re cooking. It was time to taste.
Mrs. L. J. Breithaupt is Emma Alvarena Devitt. She married Louis Jacob Breithaupt in 1881 (according to The Canadian Album: Men of Canada) and they had eight children. The last child was born just a few years before the cook book was published. Mr. Breithaupt was mayor of Berlin for a few years and was active in politics and business including a successful tannery. Even in 1911 most of the children were living with them at 108 Queen street in a home called Sonneck. Two female domestics also lived with the family. Mrs. Breithaupt was born in the area in 1860 according to Waterloo Region Generations website and her father was also mayor but of Waterloo. You can even see what she looked like by clicking here: http://generations.regionofwaterloo.ca/getperson.php?personID=I19685&tree=generations Emma died in 1925.
This is a very bland soup and suitable for me today since I’m still dealing with a cold. Although Mrs. Breithaupt was well off this would a be a cheap soup for anyone in Berlin – potatoes, milk, a bit of butter and flour. We’ve come a long way from the days of the soup kitchens when a soup like this would be all that was offered to the poor except for some bread. My father is very proud of the delicious scalloped potatoes he and my mother make for a shelter in their community and the guests always look forward to his rotation. I’ve convinced them to make it for our Christmas dinner this year as it sounds so good. I won’t be offering this soup to anyone as it needs a lot more flavouring to make it interesting.
CREAM POTATO SOUP
Mrs. L. J. Breithaupt
To 10 potatoes add water enough to cover well and boil till done; put potatoes through potato ricer and return to the water they were boiled in, add a good quart of milk and let it heat well. Put a piece of butter the size of n egg into a frying pan and let it brown nicely, then add a cup of flour and allow it to turn brown and powdered fine; add this to first mixture and season with salt and pepper. Put all through a fine colander.