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Giblet soup prepared an early nineteenth century Scottish way

A more nuanced version of giblet soup given depth by the addition of characteristically Scottish aromatics comes from nineteenth century Edinburgh. Eight first course servings or soothing supper for four.

  • Madeira-glass.jpg2 quarts beef stock
  • a coarsely chopped carrot
  • a coarsely chopped white turnip
  • 4 or 5 sprigs parsley
  • 2 or 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • heaped teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • about 1 lb chicken giblets, trimmed of sinew
  • about ½ cup minced onion
  • generous cup chopped celery
  • another Tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 Tablespoon flour (preferably Wondra)
  • 1 Tablespoon mushroom ketchup
  • salt
  • ¼ teaspoon or more cayenne
  • generous jolt of dryish Madeira (see the Notes)

  1. Put the carrot, turnip, parsley, bay, marjoram, thyme and peppercorns in a pot with the stock, bring it to a boil and then simmer it for about an hour.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the first Tablespoon of butter over medium high heat, add the giblets and then quickly just until they show streaks of color; do not try to cook them through or they will toughen.
  3. Remove the giblets from the pan, reduce the heat to low and cook the onion until translucent; do not let it brown.
  4. When the giblets are cool enough to handle, “cut them neatly into large mouthfuls.”
  5. Add the onion, giblets and celery to the stock and continue to simmer it until the giblets “are delicately tender, but not soft and insipid.”
  6. Strain the soup into a clean saucepan and discard all the solids except the celery and giblets; fish them out of the strainer and stick them in a bowl.
  7. Mash the second Tablespoon of butter into the flour.
  8. Bring the stock to a boil, reduce it to a simmer and whisk in the mixed butter and flour. Once the soup thickens, return it to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, skim any scum from the surface and add the mushroom ketchup, salt, cayenne and Madeira.
  9. Stir the giblets and celery into the soup and cook just until the soup gets warm again and then serve it up, with croutons or toast.


-You can of course make your own stock by substituting beef scraps and bones in water for the broth at Step 1.

-Use white turnips to add a spicy note to the soup rather than big yellow ones, which would give it a waft of skunk cabbage.

-If you lack mushroom ketchup, which you can find at upmarket food shops or quite easily concoct at home, substitute Worcestershire.

-The Cook and Housewife’s Manual, in common with virtually all cookbooks before the Age of Acton (the Manual was published in 1826), dispenses with most quantities and measurements, but its recipes remain uncommonly clear. The recipe for giblet soup does specify the amount of giblets, spice and water; the proportions for the remaining ingredients will be apparent to all but the obtuse.

The original recipe, in twice the quantity of our bfia variation:

“Take from two to three pounds of shin of beef, or of shanks and scrag of mutton, or knuckle of veal, or a part of each, as may be found most convenient; a small faggot of sweet herbs, carrots, turnips, and a little parsley; a quarter-ounce of black Jamaica peppercorns, and four quarts of water. When this has simmered for an hour, put to it two pair of goose-giblets, or four-pair of duck giblets, scalded and cleaned, and also browned in the frying-pan, if you choose, with minced onion. When the giblets are delicately tender, but not soft and insipid, take them up, and cut them neatly into large mouthfuls. The soup must now be thickened with butter kneaded in a large spoonful of flour with roux, or with the top-fat gradually mixed with the flour, and strained into a fresh stew-pan, into which put the giblets. Boil and skim, and season with a large spoonful of mushroom catsup, salt and a little cayenne. Serve with the cut giblets in the tureen. Beans, lettuce and celery, separately boiled, may be added at pleasure. We especially approve of celery.”


The prose self-evidently sings and, as an aside, the Manual is a culinary and literary landmark that deserves pride of place in a Scottish Number, but a couple of comments seem au courant.

-The running footnotes to the Manual that so irritated Elizabeth David are, in fact, sparks of good-humored delight and troves of culinary wisdom. Many of them trade in a misdirection that readers will understand amplifies the instructions that appear in the recipes themselves. The note to the giblet soup recipe ‘explains’ that it “was one of those pretending dishes of which MISTRESS DODS emphatically said, ‘boil stanes in butter, and the broo will be gude.’”

-‘Mrs. Dods,’ the purported author of the Cook and Housewife’s Manual, is a cantankerous innkeeper from the fiction of Robert Burns: The actual author of the Manual is Christian Isobel Johnstone, whose husband published the influential Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. Both of them may be considered figures integral to the Scottish romantic movement, whose luminaries continued the Enlightenment project in matters not just of agricultural innovation and improvements in animal husbandry but of cuisine itself, along with just about everything else. Hume for one had been a dedicated epicure who liked to claim that he would have been happy to live out his life as a cook. Johnstone has written the culinary manifesto of a nation.

-The butter in the recipe itself is entirely optional; a thrifty cook could skim the fat from the surface of the soup pot and use it instead at no additional cost.

-Her reference to ‘pretending’ and usage of ‘stanes’ appear ambiguous, and the origin of the proverb itself remains unclear to the Editor at this writing. Alexander Hislop included the phrase in Proverbs, Proverbial Expressions, and Popular Rhymes of Scotland. The book first appeared in 1862, however, so the Manual predates it by almost four decades. The phrase itself must have been known to readers of the Manual, which is studded with other Edinburgh in-jokes like the reference to Dods itself.

-‘Stane’ is Scots dialect for stone. The proverb may be a variation on the New England story of stone soup, in which a clever traveler boasts to gullible yokels that he can make a tasty soup of stones. The ruse succeeds because the traveler confides to different people at different times that his broth of stone would be ‘even better’ with the addition of this or that ingredient. By day’s end he has found himself the free supper of a soup enriched with grains, meat and vegetables.

-Perhaps, however, the stones refer to balls. We know from Blandine Vié that stones date to Middle English as one of the oldest euphemisms for testicles. Blanched and chopped, it would be a simple enough sleight of hand to switch them out for giblets.

-In any event the rest of the note proceeds in the same happy vein to offer  practical reassurance couched in the voice of someone acquainted with the unwritten thinking of a thrifty Mrs. Dods. While her dish may be “an economical way of using what might otherwise be wasted, which is always commendable,” the ‘acquaintance’ cannot resist noting:

“Wine is ordered for giblet-soup in the most approved cookery books; and we have no wish to restrain the fancies of the gourmand, however extravagant.”

There is an implicit hint that Mrs. Dods might concur in this, however warily, but the miser in her “strongly protested against bestowing Madeira” on the lowly giblet. That, from the context of the note, is precisely what the cook should do so we have added the jolt of Madeira to the bfia soup. The Scot in our readers can, however, have it both ways, by choosing a cheap fake Madeira, whether Paul Masson or Pastene.