It seems that soup has always been around, and for the most part it has. Its origins roughly began concurrently with advances in pottery (5000 BC) when ceramic pots and pans where able to hold hot liquids without breaking. During this time people used large pots to boil tough grains, hard root vegetables, beans, and meat where the remaining water (broth) was extracted for use at another point. This created a new combination of tastes and flavors as various vegetables, potatoes, and marrow were muddled together to make a main dish and the extracted liquid (often called stew, gruel or porridge) was served on the side with toast (precursor of the crouton?). The bread also serviced as a spoon that enabled people to soak up their food effectively since modern cutlery was not yet available. 1
Soup continued to be a major part of the meal that was nutritional and filing and was consumed three times a day during the Middle Ages, which was an affordable option for families, especially during numerous food shortages. Some households used broth, but anything instead of water was generally reserved for the rich since solid food items (vegetables, meat) were not readily available to the poor in abundance at this time.
During the Renaissance period soup began to be served before the meal as the first course since many people felt that a soup bowl crowded their plates. In addition, during this time preparation of soups began to evolve as seasonings became more readily available and tastes developed, which in correlation with the invention of the spoon meant that soups become hearty and richer and not just those that were strictly liquid based dish.2
The actual word origin of the word suppa, later evolved to soup is debatable. Some sources say that it came from a Frankish word (the Franks, were the most powerful of the Germanic tribes, who came to inhabit the former Roman provinces of Gaul, and who eventually became the French). Others state that it originated in France in the 16th century as sope or soupe, which was later used in England as sop1 or that it came from a classical Latin verb suppare, which translates as bread soaked in broth.2 The widely accepted idea of the word is that it came from France in the 16th century, which was used to describe a concentrated and inexpensive broth. This broth was sold by vendors in the street that was advertised as a cure for physical exhaustion. In 1765, a Parisian entrepreneur opened a shop specializing in such soups, which started appearing in restaurants soon after. 1
In America, recipes were popping up in newspapers, magazines and travel journals that discussed various forms of broth and soup. The actual first reported cookbook was published in 1742 by William Parks that was based on the principals of Eliza Smith entitled “The Compleat Housewife,” (this was the actual spelling at the time), which featured several recipes for soups and bisques such as "pease soop, craw fish soop, soop with teel, and green peas soop." 3 Soups began to progress along with advances in science and technology. Canned and dehydrated began to appear in the early 19th century, which supplied military, covered wagon trains, cowboy chuck wagons, and extended the shelf life of soups in the pantry.2 This later evolved to canned and microwave ready soups with additives and preservatives as well as those that could fit specific dietary needs (low salt, high fiber, etc.). 2
Although, I am speaking about these time periods in general terms it should be noted that there was a great deal of similarities in food preparation, as well as variations on the same idea. For example: popular soups in England were mainly potato based with broths, whereas the French had a potato and leek variation, and America had a potato and cream-base with vegetables. This is also seen in numerous soups, which are rooted in similar ideas, but based on local seasonings and ingredients as the alterations.
Today, numerous varieties of soup are available at virtually any restaurant and are a staple food in many families whose signature recipes get passed down from generation to generation. As a timeless staple, soup is truly a beloved food that is economical, nutritious, easy to prepare and one that I am excited to see constantly evolve.
1 Early French Cookery, D. Eleanor Scully & Terence Scully [University of Michigan Press:Ann Arbor] 1995.
2 An A-Z of Food and Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002.
3 History of Soup: www.cheftalk.com/...History/89-History_Of_Soup.html
Photo credit: http://www.egos-school.com/site/public-file/aboutus/Soup2RC350.jpg