Monday, 23 March 2015


Further to Ticky: fine satirical fantasy (21 March 2015), I was ready to write off  "saloop" ... an old-fashioned beverage decocted from the root of the red-handed orchis. It comforted the waiters' stomachs because it was greasy and warm" as a Stella Gibbons invention. But no.

from Thomas Rowlandson's
Sketches of the Lower Orders
Saloop, aka Salep aka Salup, is one of those of those odd beverages tightly defined by social class and region. Imported from the Ottoman Empire, its original use largely focuses on the medicinal ...
Put Half an Ounce of Salep to a Pint of Water, set it over the Fire, and stir it 'till ' 'tis as thick as Chocolate, and season it with Rose-Water, or Orange-flower Water, or Sack: If you like it better, a little Juice of Lemon and Sugar. 'Tis good for Weak or Consumptive People.
- A Collection of Above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick, and Surgery: For the Use of All Good Wives, Tender Mothers, and Careful Nurses, Mary Kettilby, London: printed for the Executrix of Mary Kettilby, page 65, 1734, Internet Archive ID acollectionabov00kettgoog).
... but by the late 1700s - early 1800s it was being sold at London street sales as a popular and cheap alternative to tea and coffee, and you rapidly find find references. Charles Lamb's in his Essays of Elia speaks well as saloop as just the thin to set up young chimney-sweepers in the morning. It sounds as if it unclagged the grit.
There is a composition, the ground work of which I have understood to be the sweet wood yclept sassafras.This wood boiled down to a kind of tea, and tempered with an infusion of milk and sugar, hath to some tastes a delicacy beyond the China luxury. I know not how thy palate may relish it; for myself, with every deference to the judicious Mr. Bead, who hath time out of mind kept open a shop (the only one he avers in London) for the vending of this "wholesome and pleasant beverage," on the south side of Fleet Street, as thou approachest Bridge Street — the only Salopian house — I have never yet adventured to dip my own particular lip in a basin of his commended ingredients — a cautious premonition to the olfac-
tories constantly whispering to me, that my stomach must infallibly, with all due courtesy, decline it. Yet I have seen palates, otherwise not uninstructed in dietetical elegancies, sup it up with avidity.
      I know not by what particular conformation of the organ it happens, but I have always found that this composition is surprisingly gratifying to the palate of a young chimney-sweeper — whether the oily particles (sassafras is slightly oleaginous) do attenuate and soften the fuliginous concretions, which are sometimes found (in dissections) to adhere to the roof of the mouth in these unfledged practitioners; or whether Nature, sensible that she had mingled too much of bitter wood in the lot of these raw victims, caused to grow out of the earth her sassafras for a sweet lenitive — but so it is, that no possible taste or odor to the senses of a young chimney-sweeper can convey a delicate excitement comparable to this mixture. Being penniless, they will yet hang their black heads over the ascending steam, to gratify one sense if possible, seemingly no less pleased than those domestic animals, cats, when they purr over a new-found sprig of valerian. There is something more in these sympathies than philosophy can inculcate.
      Now albeit Mr. Read boasteth, not without reason, thathis is the only Salopian house; yet be it known to thee, reader — if thou art one who keepest what are called good hours, thou art haply ignorant of the fact — he hath a race of industrious imitators, who from stalls, and under open sky, dispense the same savory mess to humbler customers, at that dead time of the dawn, when (as extremes meet) the rake, reeling home from his midnight cups, and the hard handed artisan leaving his bed to resume the premature labors of the day, jostle, not unfrequently to the manifest disconcerting of the former, for the honors of the pavement. It is the time when, in summer, between the expired and the not yet relumined kitchen-fires, the kennels of our fair metropolis give forth their least satisfactory odors. The rake, who wisheth to dissipate his o'ernight vapors in more grateful coffee, curses the ungenial fume, as he passeth; but the artisan stops to taste, and blesses the fragrant breakfast.
      This is saloop, the precocious herb-woman's darling, the delight of the early gardener, who transports his smoking cabbages by break of day from Hammersmith to Covent Garden's famed piazzas, the delight, and oh! I fear, too often the envy, of the unpennied sweep. Him shouldst thou haply encounter, with his dim visage pendant over the grateful steam, regale him with a sumptuous basin (it will cost thee but three-halfpennies) and a slice of delicate bread and butter (an added halfpenny); so may thy culinary fires, eased of the o'ercharged secretions from thy worse- placed hospitalities, curl up a lighter volume to the welkin; so may the descending soot never taint thy costly well-ingredienced soups, nor the odious cry, quick-reaching from street to street, of the fired chimney, invite the rattling engines from ten adjacent parishes, to disturb for a casual scintillation thy peace and pocket!
Essays of Elia, Charles Lamb (New York : A. L. Burt, ed. 1885, orig. 1836, Internet archive essayselia00lambiala).
Orchis mascula L.
public domain, Lindman
Bilder ur Nordens Flora
Twin-tuber "dogstone"
There's a detailed account of the properties of the orchid-based origin of salep/saloop: On the Preparation, Culture, and Use of the Orchis Root; from the Second Volume of Essays Medical and Experimental and Experimental, lately published by Thomas Percival, M.D.F.R.S. and S.A. (The Annual Register, Edmund Burke, Longmans, Green, pages 128ff, 1803). Interestingly, before it acquired the foreign name "saloop / "salep", it had the folksier English name "dogstones", and there was a deal of 'blue sky' research into anything relevant to maritime exploration/exploitation: as a shipboard food; as a food spoilage preventer; as a food for plantation workers; as a medical remedy, and so on.

As to the beverage aspect, the great documenter of underclass London, Henry Mayhew, has accounts of the workings of saloop stalls:
... and lastly the greasy-looking beverage which Charles Lamb's experience of London at early morning satisfied him was of all preparations the most grateful to the stomach of the then existing climbing-boys — viz., "Sa-loop." I may state, for the information of my younger readers, that saloop (spelt also "salep" and "salop") was prepared, as a powder, from the root of the Orchis mtuctda, or Red-handed Orchis, a plant which grows luxuriantly in our meadows and pastures, flowering in the spring, though never cultivated to any extent in this country; that required for the purposes of commerce was imported from India. The saloop stalls were superseded by the modern coffee-stalls.
A gentleman, who has taken an artist's interest in all connected with the streets, and has been familiar with their daily and nightly aspect from the commencement of the present century, considers that the great change is not so much in what has ceased to be sold, but in the introduction of fresh articles into street-traffic—such as pine-apples and Brazil-nuts, rhubarb and cucumbers, ham-sandwiches, ginger-beer, 8rc. The coffee-stall, he represents, has but superseded the saloop-stall (of which I have previously spoken); while the class of street-customers who supported the saloop-dealer now support the purveyor of coffee. The appearance of the two stalls, however, seen before daybreak, with their respective customers, on a bleak winter's morning, was very different. Round the saloop-stall was a group—hardly discernible at a little distance in the dimly-lighted streets—the prominent figures being of two callings now extinct —the climbing-boy and the old hackney-coachman.
      The little sweep would have his saloop smoking hot—and there was the common appliance of a oharcoal grate—regaling himself with the savoury steam until the mess was cool enough for him to swallow; whilst he sought to relieve his naked feet from the numbing effects of the cold by standing now on the right foot and now on the left, and swinging the other to and fro, until a change of posture was necessitated; his white teeth the while gleamed from his sooty visage as he gleefully licked his lips at the warm and oily breakfast .
      The old hackney-coachman was wrapped up in a many-caped great coat, drab—when it left the tailor's hands some years before—but then worn and discoloured, and, perhaps, patched or tattered; its weight alone, however, communicated a sort of warmth to the wearer; his legs were closely and artistically "wisped" with haybands; and as he kept smiting his chest with his arms, "to keep the cold out," while his saloop was cooling, he would, in no very gentle terms, express his desire to add to its comforting influence the stimulant of a "flash of lightning," a "go of rum," or a "glass of max,"—for so a dram of neat spirit was then called.
      The old watchman of that day, too, almost as heavily coated as the hackneyman, would sometimes partake of the street " Saloop-loop-loop! Sa-loop!" The woman of the town, in "looped and windowed raggedness," the outcast of the very lowest class, was at the saloop, as she is now and then at the coffee-stall, waiting until daylight drove her to her filthy lodging-house. But the climbing-boy has, happily, left no successor; the hackneyman has been succeeded by the jauntier cabman; and the taciturn old watchman by the lounging and trim policeman.
- London Labour and the London Poor: A Cyclopaedia of the Condition and Earnings of Those that Will Work, Those that Cannot Work, and Those that Will Not Work, Volume 1 (Henry Mayhew, The London Street-Folk, Book The First, London: 1851 (see Tufts Digital Library).
Generally, the impression from Mayhew is that by the time he was writing, the saloop stall was a thing of the past, driven upmarket by the better-class tea and coffee stand. The Saturday Review confirms the obsolescence:
We thought we knew London pretty well ourselves, but we confess that we were not aware that “saloop” is still occasionally sold, as is here asserted, at stalls in the streets. What is now called saloop, however, is said to be a decoction of sassafras. Formerly it was made from salep, the root of the orchis mascula, the tubers of which were peeled and browned in an oven. Before the introduction of tea and coffee, an infusion of salep was frequently used as a nutritious drink.
- The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art (Volume 12, John W. Parker and Son, Aug. 31, 1861, page 226).
Going back, it's not difficult to find accounts of drunken fights at saloop stalls:
Passing on, in our way towards the Foundling Hospital, we perceived a groupe of wretches, male and female, round a kind of cauldron filled with an infusion of sassafras, well-known by the name of saloop, which they seemed to drink with the greatest avidity,; uttering at intervals such horrid oaths and  execrations, blended with obscenity, as sufficiently intitled them to the appellation I have bestowed.  As we drew nearer, I found there were fiive or six persons; of which number, two only appeared to be men, and the rest seemed to be the most abandoned prostitutes. One of the men, as we afterwards sound, having drank two or three basons of the liquor, refused paying for them; on which, after some altercation, the saloop-man seized him by the collar, threw him on the pavement, and pommeled him pretty severely; the other, seeing his companion thus use, fell about the man with all the fury his intoxicated condition would permit; and one of the girls, who it seems was the dulcinea of the saloop-man, with equal good-will, and more ability, about him.Thus a general encounter commenced; the saloop-man laid about the aggressor; his companion about the saloop-man; and the girl about him ...
- A Modern Sabbath; or, a Sunday ramble and Sabbath-day journey ... in and about the cities of London and Westminster, and borough of Southwark, etc (London
B. Crosby, 1794).
Not exactly Costa Cofee... No wonder it died out in the UK.

Salep drink
CC BY-SA 3.0
But nowadays - minus the drama - salep aka sahlab aka various equivalent regional names - is now a very popular non-caffeine drink in the Middle East.

- Ray

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