Portable soup

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Portable soup
Alternative names Pocket soup, veal glew
Type Dehydrated food
Cookbook:Portable soup  Portable soup

Portable soup was a kind of dehydrated food used in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was a precursor of the later meat extract and bouillon cubes, and of industrially dehydrated food. It is also known as pocket soup or veal glew. It is a cousin of the glace de viande of French cooking. It was long a staple of seamen and explorers, for it would keep for many months or even years. In this context, it was a filling and nutritious dish. Portable soup of less extended vintage was, according to the 1881 Household Cyclopedia,

...exceedingly convenient for private families, for by putting one of the cakes in a saucepan with about a quart of water, and a little salt, a basin of good broth may be made in a few minutes.[1]


Soup was made in the usual way reduced, degreased—or the fat would go rancid—and then reduced repeatedly until it took on the consistency of jelly. Once it was sufficiently gelatinous to hold its form, it was placed on pieces of flannel or unglazed earthenware dishes and rotated regularly to dry it further. This was a seasonal process attempted only in the winter when humidity was low. Once dry, it was wrapped in paper and stored in boxes.


Portable soup is held to have been invented by Mrs Dubois, a London tradeswoman. Together with William Cookworthy, she won a contract to manufacture it for the Royal Navy in 1756. However, the existence of portable soups (called "bouillons en tablettes" in French) is thus mentioned, as early as 1690, in Antoine Furetière's Dictionnaire universel, under the article Tablette: "On a veu des consommés reduits en tablettes, ou des bouillons à porter en poche." ("We have seen consommés reduced into tablets, or broth to carry in your pocket.")

The naval authorities [clarification needed] hoped that portable soup would prevent scurvy among their crews. Therefore they allotted a daily ration to each sailor beginning in the 1750s. Captain Cook was convinced of its efficacy and carried it on both his South-Seas voyages.

Lewis and Clark carried portable soup on their 1804–1806 expedition into the territory of the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase. According to his letter from Fredericktown, Ohio on April 15, 1803, Lewis purchased the soup from Francois Baillet, a cook in Philadelphia. He paid $289.50 for the 193 pounds of portable soup stored in "32 canisters". Lewis carried it with him overland to the embarkation point on the Ohio River.

However, by 1815, with the publication of physician Gilbert Blane's On the Comparative Health of the British Navy from 1779 to 1814, the efficacy of portable soup for promoting the health of sailors was found lacking. Opinion shifted in favor of canned meats, by a process invented in France in 1806.

A similar product, portable gelatin, was developed by American inventor Peter Cooper in 1845, as a staple meal or dessert for families.

Cultural references[edit]

The Aubrey–Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, set on the high seas during the Napoleonic Wars, is replete with references to portable soup. (See External Link below).

In Johann David Wyss's novel The Swiss Family Robinson, set in the 1790s, portable soup makes a number of appearances, the youngest son Franz first mistakes it for glue, and then later suggests it be used as a substitute.[1]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Layinka Swinburne, "Dancing with the Mermaids: Ship’s Biscuit and Portable Soup", in Harlan Walker (ed.), Food on the Move (Totnes, 1997), pp. 309–20.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Culinary Arts: Plain Cookery", Household Cyclopedia, 1881.