I’ve been wanting to try this recipe for a couple of years now, but it feels like as soon as spring hits Vermont, it’s summer a week later and the hops are already six feet long.
I was weeding the garden earlier in the week, and wouldn’t you know, all those hops are making a break for it. I managed to grab a bunch of them to give this recipe a crack at long last. Just as well, since the hops seem to be really vigorous this year, and in need of a little thinning out. Never mind the hops I found growing wild last year in the abandoned lot next door- I’m hoping to transplant a bit of those down to my patch this week. And eventually I’ll turn all those dried hops into some awesome beer or mead, but in the meantime, we’ve got soup on the stove.
This is an interesting dish for a couple of reasons. First off, I think it’s pretty unusual to find hops in a recipe in any time period. But it makes sense- along with chives, asparagus, dandelions, and a handful of other wild weeds, hops are one of the first green plants to really get going in the spring. In a time period when fresh greens were not available year round (which is to say, up until the last 50-100 years, really), folks would have been desperate to eat any little green thing for the nutritional value.
The finished soup is curious, like many of the dishes in Scappi. It’s rich and very flavorful, but mine wasn’t quite as thick as I was led to believe it would be. That might be my fault, but I did put in two egg yolks. It’s in the section of the book of recipes for invalids, and I can understand why- it’s enormously healthy-tasting. By which I mean it tastes like it would restore you after an illness or an extra long winter. The hop shoots reminded me of tiny asparagus, which could certainly be used in place of hops, as Scappi suggested. I also innovated a little bit and added some grated Parmesan, which I think added someting. I suspect that the greens are essentially meant to be pureed into the soup, which would give it a creamier flavor, but my little small-cut pieces gave it some texture. Plus, if you are using some happy chicken eggs like mine, you’ll get this rich yellow broth that contrasts beautifully with the bright green of the hops.
All in all, I’m not sure this is one that I’ll be repeating every spring, but I’m definitely glad I finally got the chance to try it!
Scappi’s Hop-shoot Soup Recipe
“To prepare a thick soup of hops. Get the tenderest part of them, wash them well and put them into water to boil. When they are done, take them out and put them into cold water. When they have cooled, take them out, beat them with knives and cook them with chicken broth. Furthermore, you can cook them with a few raisins or gooseberries; you can also omit beating them, following the directions for asparagus. Sometimes you can put in a few melon seed that have been made into milk. The same can be done with thick soups of beaten chicory. If it is for a lean day, instead of broth use fresh washed butter; for a fast day, sweet-almond oil.” -The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi, 1577
Makes 1 serving
- a good sized handful of young hop shoots, no more than 1′ long
- 1 1/2-2 cups chicken broth
- 1-2 egg yolks
- splash white wine vinegar or verjus
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan (optional)
Begin by parboiling the hop shoots: cut them into pieces about 6-8″ long and drop into a pan of simmering water. Cook for several minutes, until the shoots are a bright green and tender. Drop into a bowl of cold water to stop them cooking. Strain and chop off any stems that are still too stiff. Chop the rest of the tender greens small and set aside.
In a separate pan, whisk together the chicken broth and egg yolks and place over medium heat. Continue to cook until the mixture has thickened somewhat. Add the splash of verjus, then remove from heat. Stir in the chopped greens and cheese, if adding.