Essays; Political, Economical, and Philosophical— Volume 1

Author: Benjamin Thompson

No. IV.

12 ounces of mashed potatoes;
1 ounce of suet, and
1 ounce of hung beef grated fine with a grater.—Mixed and baked
as before.

These puddings when baked weighed from 11 to 12 ounces each.— They were all liked by those who tasted them, but No I and No 3 seemed to meet with the most general approbation.

Receipt for a very cheap Potatoe-dumplin.

Take any quantity of potatoes, half boiled;—skin or pare them, and grate them to a coarse powder with a grater;—mix them up with a very small quantity of flour, 1/16, for instance, of the weight of the potatoes, or even less;—add a seasoning of salt, pepper, and sweet herbs;—mix up the whole with boiling water to a proper consistency, and form the mass into dumplins of the size of a large apple.— Roll the dumplins, when formed, in flour, to prevent the water from penetrating them, and put them into boiling water, and boil them till they rise to the surface of the water, and swim, when they will be found to be sufficiently done.

These dumplins may be made very savoury by mixing with them a small quantity of grated hung beef, or of pounded red herring.

Fried bread may likewise be mixed with them, and this without any other addition, except a seasoning of salt, forms an excellent dish.

Upon the same principles upon which these dumplins are prepared large boiled bag-puddings may be made; and for feeding the Poor in a public establishment, where great numbers are to be fed, puddings, as these is less trouble in preparing them, are always to be preferred to dumplins.

It would swell this Essay, (which has already exceeded the limits assigned to it,) to the size of a large volume, were I to give receipts for all the good dishes that may be prepared with potatoes.—There is however one method of preparing potatoes much in use in many parts of Germany, which appears to me to deserve being particularly mentioned and recommended;—it is as follows:

A Receipt for preparing boiled Potatoes with a Sauce.

The potatoes being properly boiled, and skinned, are cut into slices, and put into a dish, and a sauce, similar to that commonly used with a fricaseed chicken, is poured over them.

This makes an excellent and a very wholesome dish, but more calculated, it is true, for the tables of the opulent than for the Poor.—Good sauces might however be composed for this dish which would not be expensive.—Common milk-porridge, made rather thicker than usual, with wheat flour, and well salted, would not be a bad sauce for it.

Potatoe Salad.

A dish in high repute in some parts of Germany, and which deserves to be particularly recommended, is a salad of potatoes. The potatoes being properly boiled and skinned, are cut into thin slices, and the same sauce which is commonly used for salads of lettuce is poured over them; some mix anchovies with this sauce, which gives it a very agreeable relish, and with potatoes it is remarkably palatable.

Boiled potatoes cut in slices and fried in butter, or in lard, and seasoned with salt and pepper, is likewise a very palatable and wholesome dish.

Of Barley.

I have more than once mentioned the extraordinary nutritive powers of this grain, and the use of it in feeding the Poor cannot be too strongly recommended.—It is now beginning to be much used in this country, mixed with wheat flour, for making bread; but is not, I am persuaded, in bread, but in soups, that Barley can be employed to the greatest advantage.—It is astonishing how much water a small quantity of Barley-meal will thicken, and change to the consistency of a jelly; and, if my suspicions with regard to the part which water acts in nutrition are founded, this will enable us to account, not only for the nutritive quality of Barley, but also for the same quality in a still higher degree which sago and salope are known to possess.— Sago and Salope thicken, and change to the consistency of a jelly, (and as I suppose, prepare for decomposition,) a greater quantity of water than Barley, and both sago and salope are known to be nutritious in a very extraordinary degree.

Barley will thicken and change to a jelly much more water than any other grain with which we are acquainted, rice even not excepted;—and I have found reason to conclude from the result of innumerable experiments, which in the course of several years have been made under my direction in the public kitchen of the House of Industry at Munich, that for making soups, Barley is by far the best grain that can be employed.

Were I called upon to give an opinion in regard to the comparative nutritiousness of Barley-meal and wheat flour, WHEN USED IN SOUPS I should not hesitate to say that I think the former at least three or four times as nutritious as the latter.

Scotch broth is known to be one of the most nourishing dishes in common use; and there is no doubt but it owes its extraordinary nutritive quality to the Scotch (or Pearl) Barley, which is always used in preparing it.—If the Barley be omitted, the broth will be found to be poor and washy, and will afford little nourishment;—but any of the other ingredients may be retrenched;— even the meat;— without impairing very sensibly the nutritive quality of the Food.—Its flavour and palatableness may be impaired by such retrenchments; but if the water be well thickened with the Barley, the Food will still be very nourishing.

In preparing the soup used in feeding the Poor in the House of Industry at Munich, Pearl Barley has hitherto been used; but I have found, by some experiments I have lately made in London, that Pearl Barley is by no means necessary, as common Barley-meal will answer, to all intents and purposes, just as well.—In one respect it answers better, for it does not require half so much boiling.

In comparing cheap soups for feeding the Poor, the following short and plain directions will be found to be useful:

General Directions for preparing cheap Soup.

First, Each portion of Soup should consist of one pint and a quarter, which, if the Soup be rich, will afford a good meal to a grown person.—Such a portion will in general weigh about one pound and a quarter, or twenty ounces Avoirdupois.

Secondly, The basis of each portion of Soup should consist of one ounce and a quarter of Barley-meal, boiled with ONE PINT AND A QUARTER OF WATER till the whole be reduced to the uniform consistency of a thick jelly.—All other additions to the Soup do little else than to serve to make it more palatable; or by rendering a long mastication necessary, to increase and prolong the pleasure of eating;—both these objects are however of very great importance, and too much attention cannot be paid to them; but both of them may, with proper management, be attained without much expence.

Were I asked to give a Receipt for the cheapest Food which (in my opinion) it would be possible to provide in this country, it would be the following:

Receipt for a very cheap Soup.

Take of water eight gallons, and mixing with it 5 lb. of Barley-meal, boil it to the consistency of a thick jelly.—Season it with salt, pepper, vinegar, sweet herbs, and four red herrings, pounded in a mortar.—Instead of bread, add to it 5 lb. of Indian Corn made into Samp, and stirring it together with a ladle, serve it up immediately in portions of 20 ounces.

Samp, which is here recommended, is a dish said to have been invented by the savages of North America, who have no Corn-mills. —It is Indian Corn deprived of its external coat by soaking it ten or twelve hours in a lixivium of water and wood-ashes.— This coat, or husk, being separated from the kernel, rises to the surface of the water, while the grain, which is specifically heavier than water, remains at the bottom of the vessel; which grain, thus deprived of its hard coat of armour, is boiled, or rather simmered for a great length of time, two days for instance, in a kettle of water placed near the fire.—When sufficiently cooked, the kernels will be found to be swelled to a great size and burst open, and this Food, which is uncommonly sweet and nourishing, may be used in a great variety of ways; but the best way of using it is to mix it with milk, and with soups, and broths, as a substitute for bread. It is even better than bread for these purposes, for besides being quite as palatable as the very best bread, as it is less liable than bread to grow too soft when mixed with these liquids, without being disagreeably hard, it requires more mastication, and consequently tends more to increase and prolong the pleasure of eating.

The Soup which may be prepared with the quantities of ingredients mentioned in the foregoing Receipt will be sufficient for 64 portions, and the cost of these ingredients will be as follows:

For 5 lb. of Barley-meal, at 1 1/2 pence, the ]
Barley being reckoned at the present ]
very high price of it in this country, viz ]... 7 1/2
5s. 6d. per bushel ]
5 lb. of Indian Corn, at 1 1/4 pence the pound ... 6 1/4
4 red herrings ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 3
Vinegar... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 1
Salt ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 1
Pepper and sweet herbs ... ... ... ... ... 2
Total 20 3/4

This sum, (20 3/4 pence,) divided by 64, the number of portions of Soup, gives something less than ONE THIRD OF A PENNY for the cost of each portion.—But at the medium price of Barley in Great Britain, and of Indian Corn as it may be afforded here, I am persuaded that this Soup may be provided at one farthing the portion of 20 ounces.

There is another kind of Soup in great repute among the poor people, and indeed among the opulent farmers, in Germany, which would not come much higher.—This is what is called burnt Soup, or as I should rather call it, brown Soup, and it is prepared in the following manner:

Receipt for making BROWN SOUP.

Take a small piece of butter and put it over the fire in a clean frying-pan made of iron (not copper, for that metal used for this purpose would be poisonous);— put to it a few spoonfuls of wheat or rye meal;—stir the whole about briskly with a broad wooden spoon, or rather knife, with a broad and thin edge, till the butter has disappeared, and the meal is uniformly of a deep brown colour; great care being taken, by stirring it continually, to prevent the meal from being burned to the pan.

A very small quantity of this roasted meal, (perhaps half an ounce in weight would be sufficient,) being put into a sauce-pan and boiled with a pint and a quarter of water, forms a portion of Soup, which, when seasoned with salt, pepper, and vinegar, and eaten with bread cut fine, and mixed with it at the moment when it is served up, makes a kind of Food by no means unpalatable; and which is said to be very wholesome.

As this Soup may be prepared in a very short time, an instant being sufficient for boiling it; and as the ingredients for making it are very cheap, and may be easily transported, this Food is much used in Bavaria by our wood-cutters, who go into the mountains far from any habitations to fell wood.— Their provisions for a week, (the time they commonly remain in the mountains,) consist of a large loaf of rye bread (which, as it does not so soon grow dry and stale as wheaten bread, is always preferred to it); a linen bag containing a small quantity of roasted meal;—another small bag of salt;—and a small wooden box containing some pounded black pepper;—with a small frying-pan of hammered iron, about ten or eleven inches in diameter, which serves them both as an utensil for cooking, and as a dish for containing the victuals when cooked.—They sometimes, but not often, take with them a small bottle of vinegar;—but black-pepper is an ingredient in brown Soup which is never omitted.—Two table-spoonfuls of roasted meal is quite enough to make a good portion of Soup for one person; and the quantity of butter necessary to be used in roasting this quantity of meal is very small, and will cost very little.—One ounce of butter would be sufficient for roasting eight ounces of meal; and if half an ounce of roasted meal is sufficient for making one portion of Soup, the butter will not amount to more than 1/10 of an ounce; and, at eight pence the pound, will cost only 1/32 of a penny, or 1/8 of a farthing.—The cost of the meal for a portion of this Soup is not much more considerable. If it be rye meal, (which is said to be quite as good for roasting as the finest wheat flour,) it will not cost, in this country, even now when grain is so dear, more than 1 1/2d. per pound;— 1/2 an ounce, therefore, the quantity required for one portion of the Soup, would cost only 6/32 of a farthing;—and the meal and butter together no more than (1/8 + 6/32) = 10/32, or something less than 1/3 of a farthing.—If to this sum we add the cost of the ingredients used to season the Soup, namely, for salt, pepper and vinegar, allowing for them as much as the amount of the cost of the butter and the meal, or 1/3 of a farthing, this will give 2/3 of a farthing for the cost of the ingredients used in preparing one portion of this Soup; but as the bread which is eaten with it is an expensive article, this Food will not, upon the whole, be cheaper than the Soup just mentioned; and it is certainly neither so nourishing nor so wholesome.

Brown Soup might, however, on certain occasions, be found to be useful. As it is so soon cooked, and as the ingredients for making it are so easily prepared, preserved, and transported from place to place; it might be useful to travellers, and to soldiers on a march. And though it can hardly be supposed to be of itself very nourishing, yet it is possible it may render the bread eaten with it not only more nutritive, but also more wholesome;— and it certainly renders it more savoury and palatable.—It is the common breakfast of the peasants in Bavaria; and it is infinitely preferable, in all respects, to that most pernicious wash, TEA, with which the lower classes of the inhabitants of this island drench their stomachs, and ruin their constitutions.

When tea is mixed with a sufficient quantity of sugar and good cream;—when it is taken with a large quantity of bread and butter, or with toast and boiled eggs;—and above all,—WHEN IT IS NOT DRANK TOO HOT, it is certainly less unwholesome; but a simple infusion of this drug, drank boiling hot, as the Poor usually take it, is certainly a poison which, though it is sometimes slow in its operation, never fails to produce very fatal effects, even in the strongest constitution, where the free use of it is continued for a considerable length of time.

Of Rye Bread

The prejudice in this island against bread made of Rye, is the more extraordinary, as in many parts of the country no other kind of bread is used; and as the general use of it in many parts of Europe, for ages, has proved it to be perfectly wholesome.— In those countries where it is in common use, many persons prefer it to bread made of the best wheat flour; and though wheaten bread is commonly preferred to it, yet I am persuaded that the general dislike of it, where it is not much in use, is more owing to its being BADLY PREPARED, or not well baked, than to any thing else.

As an account of some experiments upon baking Rye Bread, which were made under my immediate care and inspection in the bake-house of the House of Industry at Munich, may perhaps be of use to those who wish to known how good Rye Bread may be prepared; as also to such as are desirous of ascertaining, by similar experiments, what, in any given case, the profits of a baker really are; I shall publish an account in detail of these experiments, in the Appendix to this volume.

I cannot conclude this Essay, without once more recommending, in the most earnest manner, to the attention of the Public, and more especially to the attention of all those who are engaged in public affairs,—the subject which has here been attempted to be investigated. It is certainly of very great importance, in whatever light it is considered; and it is particularly so at the present moment: for however statesmen may differ in opinion with respect to the danger or expediency of making any alterations in the constitution, or established forms of government, in times of popular commotion, no doubts can be entertained with respect to the policy of diminishing, as much as possible, at all times, —and more especially in times like the present,—the misery of the lower classes of the people.


Footnotes for Essay III.

[1] November 1795.

[2] The preparation of water is, in many cases, an object of more importance than is generally imagined; particularly when it is made use of as a vehicle for conveying agreeable tastes. In making punch, for instance, if the water used be previously boiled two or three hours with a handful of rice, the punch made from it will be incomparably better, than is to say, more full and luscious upon the palate, than when the water is not prepared.

[3] I cannot dismiss this subject, the feeding of cattle, without just mentioning another practice common among our best farmers in Bavaria, which, I think, deserves to be known. They chop the green clover with which they feed their cattle, and mix with it a considerable quantity of chopped straw. They pretend that this rich succulent grass is of so clammy a nature, that unless it be mixed with chopped straw, hay, or some other dry fodder, cattle which are fed with it do not ruminate sufficiently. The usual proportion of the clover to the straw, is as two to one.

[4] A viertl is the twelfth part of a schafl, and the Bavarian schafl is equal to 6 31/300 Winchester bushels.

[5] The quantity of fuel here mentioned, though it certainly is almost incredibly small, was nevertheless determined from the results of actual experiments. A particular account of these experiments will be given in my Essay on the Management of Heat and the Economy of Fuel.

[6] One Bavarian schafl (equal to 6 31/100 Winchester bushels) of barley, weighing at a medium 250 Bavarian pounds, upon being pearled, or rolled (as it is called in Germany), is reduced to half a schafl, which weighs 171 Bavarian pounds. The 79lb. which it loses in the operation is the perquisite of the miller, and is all he receives for his trouble.

[7] Since the First Edition of this Essay was published the experiment with barley-meal has been tried, and the meal has been found to answer quite as well as pearl barley, if not better, for making these soups. Among others, Thomas Bernard, Esq. Treasurer of the Founding Hospital, a gentleman of most respectable character, and well known for his philanthropy and active zeal in relieving the distresses of the Poor, has given it a very complete and fair trial; and he found, what is very remarkable, though not difficult to be accounted for—that the barley-meal, WITH ALL THE BRAN IN IT, answered better, that is to say, made the soup richer, and thicker, than when the fine flour of barley, without the bran, was used.

[8] By some experiments lately made it has been found that the soup will be much improved if a small fire is made under the boiler, just sufficient to make its contents boil up once, when the barley and water are put into it, and then closing up immediately the ash-hole register, and the damper in the chimney, and throwing a thick blanket, or a warm covering over the cover of the boiler, the whole be kept hot till the next morning. This heat so long continued, acts very powerfully on the barley, and causes it to thicken the water in a very surprising manner. Perhaps the oat-meal used for making water gruel might be improved in its effects by the same means. The experiment is certainly worth trying.

[9] This invention of double bottoms might be used with great success by distillers, to prevent their liquor, when it is thick, from burning to the bottoms of their stills. But there is another hint, which I have long wished to give distillers, from which, I am persuaded, they might derive very essential advantages.—It is to recommend to them to make up warm clothing of thick blanketing for covering up their still-heads, and defending them from the cold air of the atmosphere; and for covering in the same manner all that part of the copper or boiler which rises above the brick-work in which it is fixed. The great quantity of heat is constantly given off to the cold air of the atmosphere in contact with it by this naked copper, not only occasions a very great loss of heat, and of fuel, but tends likewise very much to EMBARRASS and to PROLONG the process of distillation; for all the heat communicated by the naked still-head to the atmosphere is taken from the spirituous vapour which rises from the liquor in the still; and as this vapour cannot fail to be condensed into spirits whenever and WHEREVER it loses ANY PART of its heat,— as the spirits generated in the still-head in consequence of this communication of heat to the atmosphere do not find their way into the worm, but trickle down and mix again with the liquor in the still,—the bad effects of leaving the still-head exposed naked to the cold air is quite evident. The remedy for this evil is as cheap and as effectual, as it is simple and obvious.

[10] The Bavarian pound (equal to 1.238, or near one pound and a quarter Avoirdupois,) is divided into 32 loths.

[11] For each 100 lb. Bavarian weight, (equal to 123.84 lb. Avoirdupois,) of rye-meal, which the baker receives from the magazine, he is obliged to deliver sixty-four loaves of bread, each loaf weighing 2 lb. 5 1/2 loths; equal to 2 lb. 10 oz. Avoirdupois;—and as each loaf is divided into six portions, this gives seven ounces Avoirdupois for each portion. Hence it appears that 100 lb. of rye-meal give 149 lb. of bread; for sixty-four loaves, at 2 lb. 5 1/2 loths each, weigh 149 lb. —When this bread is reckoned at two creutzers a Bavarian pound, (which is about what it costs at a medium,) one portion costs just 10/16 of a creutzer, or 120/528 of a penny sterling, which is something less than one farthing.

[12] This allowance is evidently much too large; but I was willing to show what the expence of feed the Poor would be at THE HIGHEST CALCULATION. I have estimated the 7 ounces of rye-bread, mentioned above, at what it ought to cost when rye is 7s. 6d. the bushel, its present price in London.

[13] Farther inquiries which have since been made, have proved that these suspicions were not without foundation.

[14] Since writing the above, I have had an opportunity of ascertaining, in the most decisive and satisfactory manner, the facts relative to the weight of Indian Corn of the growth of the northern states of America. A friend of mine, an American gentleman, resident in London, (George Erving, Esq. of Great George street, Hanover-square,) who, in common with the rest of his countrymen, still retains a liking for Indian Corn, and imports it regularly every year from America, has just received a fresh supply of it, by one of the last ships which has arrived from Boston in New England; and at my desire he weighed a bushel of it, and found it to weigh 61 lb.: It cost him at Boston three shillings and sixpence sterling the bushel.

[15] The price of Indian meal as it here estimated,—(2d. a pound,) —is at least twice as much as it would cost in Great Britain in common years, if care was taken to import it at the cheapest rate.

[16] Those who dislike trouble, and feel themselves called upon by duty and honor to take an active part in undertakings for the public good, are extremely apt to endeavour to excuse,—to themselves as well as to the world,—their inactivity and supineness, by representing the undertaking in question as being so very difficult as to make all hope of success quite chimerical and ridiculous.

[17] The Housekeeper of my friend and countryman, Sir William Pepperel, Bart. of Upper Seymour Street, Portman Square.

[18] Molasses imported from the French West India Islands into the American States is commonly sold there from 12d. to 14d. the gallon.

[19] This gentleman, who is as remarkable for his good fortune at sea, as he is respectable on account of his private character and professional knowledge, has crossed the Atlantic Ocean the almost incredible number of ONE HUNDRED AND TEN TIMES! and without meeting with the smallest accident. He is now on the seas in his way to North America; and this voyage, which is his HUNDRED AND ELEVENTH, he intends should be his last. May he arrive safe,—and may he long enjoy in peace and quite the well-earned fruits of his laborious life! Who can reflect on the innumerable storms he must have experienced, and perils he has escaped, without feeling much interested in his preservation and happiness?

[20] This maccaroni would not probably have cost one quarter of that sum at Naples.—Common maccaroni is frequently sold there as low as fourteen grains, equal to five pence halfpenny sterling the rottolo, weighing twenty-eight ounces and three quarters Avoirdupois, which is three pence sterling the pound Avoirdupois. An inferiour kind of maccaroni, such as is commonly sold at Naples to the Poor, costs not more than two pence sterling the pound Avoirdupois.

[21] If maccaroni could be made in this country as cheap as it is made in Naples, that is to say, so as to be afforded for three pence sterling the pound Avoirdupois, for the best sort, (and I do not see why it should not,) as half a pound of dry maccaroni weighs when boiled very nearly two pounds, each pound of boiled maccaroni would cost only three farthings, and the cheese necessary for giving it a relish one farthing more, making together one penny; which is certainly a very moderate price for such good and wholesome Food.


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Chicago: Benjamin Thompson, "No. IV.," Essays; Political, Economical, and Philosophical— Volume 1, ed. Bryant Conant, James and trans. Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866 in Essays; Political, Economical, and Philosophical—Volume 1 Original Sources, accessed August 8, 2022,

MLA: Thompson, Benjamin. "No. IV." Essays; Political, Economical, and Philosophical— Volume 1, edited by Bryant Conant, James, and translated by Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866, in Essays; Political, Economical, and Philosophical—Volume 1, Original Sources. 8 Aug. 2022.

Harvard: Thompson, B, 'No. IV.' in Essays; Political, Economical, and Philosophical— Volume 1, ed. and trans. . cited in , Essays; Political, Economical, and Philosophical—Volume 1. Original Sources, retrieved 8 August 2022, from