Chances are if your fantasy characters are in a pseudo-medieval setting that they’ll be eating soup. The term soup derives from an post-classical Latin verb suppare (“soak”), which was borrowed from the German root “sup,” from which we get the modern English words sup and supper. This Latin term gave us the noun suppa, which passed into Old French as soupe, Italian as zuppa, and German and Danish as suppe. The terms sop or sup, which evolved into the word soup, refer to ancient practice of pouring broth over bread or toast, which is where the modern idea of croutons comes from. This piece of bread was what was used to eat the soup by sopping it up, rather than using a spoon. Before the term soup came along, it was more commonly known as pottage or broth, an example being pease pottage, which I will further describe for you later in this post. In the Middle Ages the meal at the end of a typical day was the lighter of the two meals of the day, and was often soup. “In fact it was precisely because of the normal inclusion of a sop in this end-of-the-day meal that it became called ‘souper’ or ‘supper.’”
The practice of combining various ingredients in a large pot to create a simple, nutricious, filing food is very ancient. Soup, stews, pottages, porridges, and gruels evolved according to local ingredients and tastes. Here is an ancient Egyptian recipe for ful medames, a soup that dates back to the Pharaonic ages:
1 ½ lb dried ful, fava or broad beans
2 – 4 crushed cloves of garlic
Soak beans for 12 hours. Put in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender. Drain and add crushed garlic. Season and serve hot.
Plants or meat could be added to soups like this. Such gruels or porridges are still staple foods in many parts of the world. Here is an ancient Mesopotamian recipe for goat soup:
“Head, legs, and tail should be singed before putting [them in] the pot to boil. Bring water to a boil. Add fat, onions, samidu, leeks, garlic, some blood [from the goat], some fresh cheese. Beat the whole together.”
“Pease pottage can be traced back to recipes brought to Britain by the ancient Romans. Here is an ancient Roman recipe for dried peas with leaks:
“Soak and boil the peas. When the froth has been skimmed off, put in leeks, coriander and cumin. Pound pepper, lovage, caraway, dill, fresh basil, moisten with liquamen, blend with wine and liquamen (add to the peas) bring to a boil. When it boils, stir. If something is wanted add and then serve.”  Liquamen was a favorite Roman sauce, made from fermented anchovies.
Pease pottage was one of many Medieval dishes based on cereals, which were mainstays for many people for many centuries. Pottage comes from the French “potage” (“something cooked in a pot”), and is the word from which the English word “porridge” comes. In Roman times, Apicius gave a recipe for a pottage called tisana, made of barley with 3 kinds of pulses, 8 kinds of leafy vegetables, 4 flavoring herbs, liquamen (the anchovy sauce mentioned earlier), and garnished with chopped cabbage leaves. Poor people in ancient Roman Britain would have lived mostly on coarse, unleavened flat bread and bean or pea pottage with the occasional additon of meat. In the Middle Ages, and especially in Britain, pottages were eaten by everyone. The simplest kinds were cereal pottages: oatmeal in the north, barley, rye or wheat frumenty in the south. To the rich these dishes were an accompaniment to meat. To the poor they were complete meals. Pease pottage reflects the British preference for pease over other pulses. The French called it “potage in the English style,” and it was extremely popular in Tudor and Stuart England. Pease pottage is a thick porridge originally made from the dried mealy pease that were a staple food. For poor people, pease pottage was combined with a small lump of bacon, when available, to make a simple country meal. This was sometimes thickened with oatmeal, bread crumbs or flour. This bacon was heavily salted and the pease pottage, made without salt, was improved by the flavor of the bacon. Wealthier people would cook young green pease in beef broth with parsley, sage, savory and hyssop. At Lent, white pease were used, flavored with minced onions, sugar or honey and sometimes colored with saffron.
At the beginning of the 17th century, the introduction of the pudding cloth allowed pease pudding to be made. Pease pudding was made from pease flavored with a little sugar, pepper, and sometimes mint, cooked in a pudding cloth in a simmering liquid, sometimes alongside a piece of bacon. This is the pudding referred to in the old nursery rhyme:
“Pease pudding hot. Pease pudding cold. Pease pudding in the pot, nine days old.”
This is my modern version of Pease Pottage:
1 lb green and yellow split peas
1 large onion chopped
2 medium carrots peeled and chopped
1 ½ lb ham hocks, ham bone (or even a turkey leg)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
½ cup fresh chopped parsley or ¼ cup dried parsley
2 bay leaves
5 cups chicken broth
6 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, melt the butter over a low heat. Add the chopped onion, chopped carrots, marjoram, thyme and bay leaves. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the dried peas, chicken broth, water, Worcestershire sauce and ham hocks. Slowly bring to a boil and simmer for 2 – 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Take out the ham hocks or ham bone and cut the meat into small pieces, placing these pieces back in the pot. Discard the bone and fat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaves and stir the parsley into the pot. Pease pudding should have a puree consistency and if too sloppy raise the heat quickly to reduce the moisture.
 Early French Cookery, D. Eleanor Scully & Terence Scully [University of Michigan Press:Ann Arbor] 1995 (p. 102)
 Clues From The Past: Ancient Recipes. http://www-oi.uchicago.edu/OI/MUS/ED/TRC/trc_home.html
 The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery, A. Escoffier, first translation of Le Guide Culinaire  by H.L. Cracknell and R.J. Kaufmann [John Wiley & Sons:New York] 1979 (p. 65)