Jenny Lind soup for the professional soprano

U 11.699-700: Must be abstemious to sing. Jenny Lind soup: stock, sage, raw eggs, half pint of cream.

Bloom’s mind wanders over musical themes as he sits in the Ormond bar listening to the talk and singing. He remembers a story about the popular Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (Johanna Maria Lind, 1820-87), that she was associated with a particular type of bland but wholesome soup: “Must be abstemious to sing”.

Don Gifford has the story in outline from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861). Mrs Beeton calls the dish “Soup à la Cantatrice (Professional Singer’s Soup)”:

This is a soup, the principal ingredients of which, sago [not sage] and eggs, have always been deemed very beneficial to the chest and throat. In various quantities, and in different proportions, they have been partaken of by the principal singers of the day, including the celebrated Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind […] with considerable advantage to the voice, in singing.

Early references to Jenny Lind Soup date from the time of her concert tour of America, which was so popular that merchandising of all kinds was rapidly prepared and sold under her name (she was invited to America by showman P. T. Barnum). New York’s Water-cure Journal for February 1851 (p. 50) notes the phenomenon:

Jenny Lind Goods for Sale. – We have heard of Jenny Lind Candy – Jenny Lind Steamboats – Jenny Lind horses and cattle, and Jenny Lind Soup, but we never before heard of Jenny Lind Cod-Liver Oil, which we find advertised in the newspapers; said to be good for the tick-dolor-o.

Jenny Lind soup was formally introduced (as Mademoiselle Jenny Lind’s soup; authentic receipt) to British audiences by Mrs Beeton’s predecessor Eliza Acton in 1855. In 1845 Mrs Acton had published her Modern Cookery, in all its branches, and it had run through many editions before it was revised and enlarged in 1855 as Modern Cookery, for private families. Eliza Acton gives the recipe (ch. 1 p. 16):

Wash a quarter of a pound of the best pearl sago until the water poured from it is clear; then stew it quite tender and very thick in water or thick broth (it will require nearly or quite a quart of liquid, which should be poured to it cold, and heated slowly): thenmix gradually with it a good boiling cream, and the yolks of four fresh eggs, and mingle the whole carefully with two quarts of strong veal or beef stock, which should always be kept ready boiling. Send the soup immediately to table.

Fortunately Eliza Acton tells us more about the origin of the soup. It is, she relates, “the soup which was constantly served to [Jenny Lind], as it was prepared by her own cook”:

We are indebted for it to the kindness of the very popular Swedish authoress, Miss Bremer, who received it direct from her accomplished countrywoman […]

We were informed by Miss Bremer that Mademoiselle Lind was in the habit of taking this soup before she sang, as she found the sago and eggs soothing to the chest, and beneficial to the voice.

Fredrika Bremer (1801-65) was a Swedish novelist whose English translator, Mary Howitt (1799-1888), belonged to the same South London literary coterie as Eliza Acton. They shared the same publisher: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. Mary Howitt records Mrs Acton’s interest in Fredrika Bremer:

The far-famed citron-soufflé of the estimable Louise in Mdlle. Bremer’s novel, “The Home”, also procured for me a most agreeable and lasting friendship with an estimable gentlewoman, Miss Eliza Acton. In perusing “The Home”, the soufflé had not escaped her observation, and she was anxious to obtain the exact receipt from Mdlle. Bremer for the second edition of “Modern Cookery”.

Mary Howitt An Autobiography (1889) vol. 2 ch. 1 p. 24

Miss Bremer’s Pudding makes its appearance in the first edition of Modern Cookery, in 1845 (ch. 17 p. 451).

That Jenny Lind was widely associated with soup as well as opera-singing is shown but the widespread popularity of a joke which is recorded in local newspapers in Britain and Ireland for over sixty years, from 1863, when the Western Daily Mercury (amongst other papers) presents it in its Christmas riddles and amusements. The riddle runs: “Why would Jenny Lind make good soup?” The inevitable answer, repeated in the newspapers for year and years, goes: “Because she’s neither Alboni (all bony) nor Grisi (greasy)”. To understand the joke properly, the reader needs to pick up the references to two popular Italian opera-singers, Marietta Alboni (1826-94) and Giulia Grisi (1811-69).

References to the soup continue throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. In 1903 the Drogheda Independent of 19 December was entertaining its readers to yet another version of the old recipe.

But Joyce seems to have come to the soup later. He added it to the Ulysses proofs late in 1921:

Jenny Lind soup: stock, sage [sic], raw eggs, half pint of cream.

It is likely that he saw a syndicated version (if not the original) of a much-repeated piece by “A Physician”, published in the Daily Mail of 13 October 1921:

A food much used by singers is the so-called “Jenny Lind Soup”. This is very bland and does not alter the voice.

It is made of bouillon and sago, to which are added before serving the yolks of two eggs beaten up in a half-pint of cream. A half-teaspoonful of sugar is added, and it is flavoured with spices. Others take raw eggs, eggs and sherry or albumin water, while others again prefer jellies of the gelatine variety, or even honey.

It remains uncertain whether Joyce misread “sago” for “sage”, or whether he wishes to attribute the gaff to error-prone Bloom. A recipe for "Jenny Lind Soup" may be found in Alison Armstrong's The Joyce of Cooking (1986), p. 21.

John Simpson

Search by keyword (within this site): Songs Food Advertising Medicine Opera Cooking