My mother grew up in straightened circumstances in Wiltshire, England. Her father died when she was two, a victim of the post World War I flu epidemic, and her mother (my grandmother) got by with a tiny pension, taking in lodgers, and help from her brother and sisters since it was not respectable for widows to work.

Even so, my mother told us time and again, they never felt they lacked for anything. In particular, she said, they always had proper meals, bread and a bit of meat every day.

She contrasted her situation to that of other children in the same local school who had to make do with tea kettle broth. As my mother explained it, tea kettle broth, the sign of real poverty, was made by toasting bits of bread until they almost charred, then pouring water over them.  The charring turned the water brown, like tea or broth.

I’d never heard anyone else talk about tea kettle broth until I saw the Old Foodie’s recent post, Tea Soup.  As she says, the “tea” part of the name came from the kettle in which water was boiled, the soup from the older “sops” or pieces of bread.  A quick google shows that tea kettle broth was consumed across the British Isles.

My mother never mentioned adding milk, let alone butter which was sometimes added. I assume it was just too expensive to do so. Wiltshire, which for centuries had prospered on the wool trade, suffered very hard times in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Those who ate tea kettle broth might have welcomed a few empty calories.


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