When did people stop being ok with soup just being itself?
October 28, 2009 1:27 PM   Subscribe

When, why and where did people start putting crackers in their soup?

Oyster crackers, saltines, and more exotic varieties of crackers are now ubiquitous and 'traditional' companions to a bowl of soup at diners everywhere. Why did this start? Where? When? Was there some sort of culinary evolution - like people used to put bread crumbs in their stew and now we have this oyster cracker skeuomorph? Answers or directions to good resources regarding the history of crackers and soup are very welcome.
posted by Lutoslawski to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
French onion soup traditionally comes with a slice of toast on top, with cheese melted over it as well. A couple other traditional soups also call for a slice of bread either on the top as a big crouton or on the bottom of the bowl. Maybe the crackers is an offshoot of that?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:30 PM on October 28, 2009


Crackers are more portable and less perishable than bread.
posted by hermitosis at 1:32 PM on October 28, 2009


Oyster crackers, saltines, and more exotic varieties of crackers are now ubiquitous and 'traditional' companions to a bowl of soup at diners everywhere.

To piggy back on this one, and perhaps add extra information, I had no clue why I was handed a little packet of crackers the first time I had soup in the US. I started looking to see if there was a little packet of cheese... This is, to me, purely a North American thing and I haven't seen this in any other part of Western Europe or the UK.

Now, I assume 'everywhere' is unintentionally US-centric, but I too have been intrigued by this and haven't been back to the UK for 3 years. Has this been adopted there at all? Because I still find the idea of crackers with soup to be truly bizarre and wondered if a food revolution occurred at the point I crossed the pond and I just missed it.
posted by Brockles at 1:33 PM on October 28, 2009


Crackers with soup is not standard in Australia. If there is a standard, it would be fresh bread or croutons (essentially the more portable and less perishable version of bread?)
posted by unlaced at 1:37 PM on October 28, 2009


I crush up crackers into the broth to make the soup thicker, so I have less drinking and more eating. I probably also use way more crackers than your average soup-eater.
posted by AtomicBee at 1:40 PM on October 28, 2009


I've never seen crackers with soup in the UK. Bread is the traditional accompliment. Do you get bread as well as crackers?
posted by Helga-woo at 1:43 PM on October 28, 2009


French onion soup traditionally comes with a slice of toast on top

it's pretty ancient. I know that at least going back to medieval foodways, bread was always served alongside a meal, and ended up serving as a napkin as well as food, since there were no napkins. The bread was used as a "sop," and you were intended to use it to sop up the liquid of soups and stews. So soups have been served with breadstuff at least that long. The toast in french onion soup is a vestige of that.

In pre-Revolutionary American cooking, the crackers (hardtack type) were incorporated right into soups. Early chowders contained no cream at all; they were thickened instead with crackers in layers or with pounded cracker crumbs.
posted by Miko at 1:44 PM on October 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Food Timeline provides:
Why the word "soup?"
"The etymological idea underlying the word soup is that of soaking. It goes back to an unrecorded post-classical Latin verb suppare soak', which was borrowed from the same prehistoric German root (sup-) as produced in English sup and supper. From it was derived the noun suppa, which passed into Old French as soupe. This meant both piece of bread soaked in liquid' and, by extension, broth poured onto bread.' It was the latter strand of the meaning that entered English in the seventeenth century. Until the arrival of the term soup, such food had been termed broth or pottage. It was customarily served with the meat or vegetable dishes with which it had been made, and (as the dreivation of soup suggest) was poured over sops of bread or toast (the ancestors of modern croutons). But coincident with the introduction of the world soup, it began to be fashionable to serve the liquid broth on its own, and in the early eighteenth century it was assuming its present-day role as a first course."
---An A-Z of Food and Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 316)
posted by Miko at 1:48 PM on October 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


I crush up crackers into the broth to make the soup thicker, so I have less drinking and more eating. I probably also use way more crackers than your average soup-eater.

Ditto. (The stingy two-cracker packet is the reason I don't order soup at restaurants.)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:54 PM on October 28, 2009


This is 100% speculation (or maybe I read it in Modern Jackass,) but I've always assumed it's a vestigial custom adopted to make soup a little bit more filling during lean times, like the great depression or WWII rationing.
posted by usonian at 2:03 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I imagine for most of history, your average piece of bread was pretty stale, so you might want to moisten it with something before eating. Especially since you were also likely to have more than a few teeth missing.
posted by electroboy at 2:04 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Brockles: " This is, to me, purely a North American thing and I haven't seen this in any other part of Western Europe or the UK."

Yup, the only time I saw this over here in Germany was when I went ramen-shopping in a huge Asia store; one of the packets included not only a plastic spork you had to assemble yourself but also a separate saltine cracker packet. That struck me as very odd at the time, since I'd only ever heard that mentioned as an American custom.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:05 PM on October 28, 2009


When I was growing up in Sarajevo, soup was also the first course of our big meal (lunch) and it was always eaten with bread - especially if the bread was getting tough. When we had guests, they were always given the freshest bread, out of politeness. But I suspect, like me, that most people preferred slightly crusty bread with their soup. When I came to America, I perceived the crackers given with soup as a sort of way to provide the preferred staleness of old bread without resorting to serving something that was perceived as old. That's just my view, though.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:08 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


The crackers are a way of introducing a contrasting texture and flavor, to provide balance. Personally, I get really bored with soup less than halfway in. The crackers make it crunchy and a little more interesting, flavorful, and balanced.
posted by amethysts at 2:14 PM on October 28, 2009


I think electroboy made very good points.

I always think my soup is cooler once the crackers are in it, which is great because then there's less chance of burning my mouth.
posted by jgirl at 2:30 PM on October 28, 2009


My guess? Crackers cheaper than bread. Some restaurants charge for bread ordered with soup. I worked in one.
posted by NorthCoastCafe at 2:30 PM on October 28, 2009


The Uighur's have been doing it for centuries.
posted by BobbyDigital at 2:35 PM on October 28, 2009


I've never been to the USA and the only time I remember seeing crackers served with soup was from photos of the accused (Goering, Hess etc.) eating at the Nuremberg trials.

The guards were, and presumably the rations also, American. Crackers with soup stood out to me as strange, I'm from the UK.

Here's one photo, but not one of the ones I was thinking of. But same as in the other photos I've seen, they've been served bread as well as crackers.
posted by selton at 2:48 PM on October 28, 2009


Clam chowder way back in the day used to be made with ship's biscuit for thickening. Later on, potatoes began to supplant dry biscuit as the starch in chowder, but the crackers stayed around to be served at table.

An 1842 recipe by Daniel Webster for fish chowder concludes in part: "throw in a few of the largest Boston crackers, and then apply the salt and pepper to suit the fancy."
posted by letourneau at 2:59 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


i always assumed it was a holdover from when we had to soak old, tough bread in the soup to make it more palatable and the custom stuck. i have nothing to support that answer, however.
posted by radiosilents at 3:12 PM on October 28, 2009


It's tasty, that's why! Also nice to have some crunch in soup.

I am an Australian but grew up overseas- we put crackers in our soup sometimes and it's considered weird by others sometimes, from various cultural backgrounds.

In Bolivia it is traditional to have crispy french fries (thin slivers of potato, fried) on top of peanut soup- that also is very very tasty. Not so much on the soppage though with the chips/fries/etc.
posted by titanium_geek at 4:30 PM on October 28, 2009


Never seen it. Love croutons. Is that what we're talking about? (Anglo-Aussie speaking)
posted by pompomtom at 7:15 PM on October 28, 2009


Hardtack was the main food ration for civil war soldiers, and they were basically inedible without being first softened in coffee. Maybe there's a relationship there?


Yup, the only time I saw this over here in Germany was when I went ramen-shopping in a huge Asia store; one of the packets included not only a plastic spork you had to assemble yourself but also a separate saltine cracker packet.

Are you sure it was a cracker and not the thin piece of fried tofu that comes in kitsune udon?
posted by danny the boy at 8:35 PM on October 28, 2009


I've read that it was considered rude in the US to put crackers in soup until FDR became president (he liked to do this). If I have cream-based soup and am given bread, I like to tear into pieces and mush it into the liquid.....I know, gauche!
posted by brujita at 9:26 PM on October 28, 2009


danny the boy: "Are you sure it was a cracker and not the thin piece of fried tofu that comes in kitsune udon?"

Pretty sure - here is a similar kit to the one I got, this one without the spork but with a clearly discernible cracker packet.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:04 AM on October 29, 2009


I can't cite any resources but I've heard a couple of times that saltine-type soda crackers first became widely popular during the Great Depression.That would explain why crackers-and-soup is tied so closely to other depression era things like diners (and being sort of a low-rent way to eat your soup).

When I was a kid, I always added crackers until my spoon could stand up by itself.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:38 AM on October 29, 2009


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