Crumb Soup is a light, porridge-like soup that seems like it belongs in a Depression-era journal. In modern parlance we might call this a “struggle meal”. I found this recipe tucked away in the Vegetables and Soups section of Our Favorite Recipes, a 1962 cookbook compiled by Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Arcadia, Wisconsin. The rest of the cookbook is nowhere near as bleak, populated with the usual casseroles and dips and salads. I’m not sure what might possess a person to submit this to a community cookbook. There are no suggested accompaniments. The only context I have is the author’s name, Mrs. Schlesser. Her other submissions are either sides or sweets, so it’s hard to infer what a typical meal in her house would look like. My best guess is that this would be a very, very simple weeknight meal, just enough to warm you up during a cold Wisconsin winter.
When I first came across this recipe I was expecting some sort of peasant soup made from day-old bread. In my comings and goings I’ve encountered a half-dozen different types of bread soup, from Depression-era meals to European staples like ajoblanco. What I found instead was something more like a gluey pasta soup. The ‘crumbs’ are made from a simple, dry pasta dough: eggs, flour, and salt. The dough is dropped as ‘crumbs’ into boiling water instead of being formed into shapes, similar to spätzle but with small bits and drier dough. The end result resembles a porridge or rice congee more than a traditional soup. To add to the struggle meal vibe, the only seasoning is salt. As written the recipe is unbearably salty, but if you back off on the salt it’s impossibly bland. I found that a dash of black pepper and a pat of butter liven things up a little bit, but temper your expectations.
It should go without saying that I can only recommend this recipe as a novelty. Even if you’re genuinely struggling you’ve got better options at this price point: ramen, rice and beans, hard-boiled eggs. Flour-water soups are quite literally the bottom of the barrel, and there’s no redeeming them.
For the broth:
For the pasta:
- Bring salted water to a rolling boil in a large pot. When you add the crumbs the soup will have a tendency to boil over, so ensure you have plenty of headroom.
- In a medium bowl beat the egg, then add the salt and flour and stir with a fork until you've incorporated as much flour as you can. Mix in the remaining flour with your hands. You'll be tempted to add more liquid but don't - your intended goal is a dry, hard, pasta dough.
- Add the dough gradually to the boiling water, sifting with your fingers to break up any unappetizingly large chunks. The soup will be unavoidably lumpy, but you want to avoid any crumbs larger than a pea. Stir constantly at a boil for about 5 minutes, removing from heat when necessary to prevent boiling over.
- Remove from heat and stir in the milk. Spoon into individual bowls and top with a small pat of butter and freshly ground black pepper.