Elizabeth David & Jane Grigson’s Mushroom soup

by Sasha Wilkins on December 20, 2009 · 21 comments

Potage aux champignons a la Bressane

Mushroom soup

If asked to come up with the menu for my final meal, this soup would be a strong contender for the first course. It’s intensely flavoured and is a pleasing proper mushroom grey colour, flecked with black gills. When left overnight it thickens considerably and makes a rather good sauce for chicken.

What separates this from other mushroom soups is its secret ingredient: a thick slice of bread. Jane Grigson tells us that sauces in the Middle Ages used breadcrumbs for thickening (as opposed to flour or a final enriching addition of egg yolks & cream).

This culinary habit persisted into Tudor times, and has a final echo today in the Christmas bread sauce. The most extraordinary thing is that there is no trace whatsoever of the taste or texture of the bread upon eating.

I’ve had great success in cooking this soup for avowed mushroom avoiders. And so I’d like to dedicate this post to the memory of our friend Sean Donovan, who was killed in the summer of our second year at university, who hated mushrooms and loved this soup.

The recipe below comes from Jane Grigson’s seminal 1975 cookbook The Mushroom Feast, which I bought in 1995 on the book bursary I was awarded for my theology degree. (Cookery books were so much more beguiling than tomes on Redaction Criticism.) Grigson found it first in Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking, but I’ve chosen Grigson’s version to run here as it is slightly clearer.

I make this soup by sight now, but I cooked it according to the exact recipe for these photographs.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Mmm butter.

melted butter

Chop mushrooms roughly

chopped mushrooms

Cast mushrooms into saucepan to cook gently in the butter. As the juices run, add half the parsley, garlic, salt & nutmeg to taste.

Mushroom soup

Realise you have forgotten to pick the parsley, put on unspeakable gardening clogs and venture out into the night to forage for parsley.


Add the chopped parsley to saucepan

Mushroom soup

Take heel of stale bread from bread bin. Remove crusts

sourdough bread

Tear the slice of bread into pieces and soak in a cup of the stock.

Mushroom soup

Transfer everything into the saucepan and add the remaining stock. Cook for fifteen minutes

Mushroom soup

and then blend in the pan with a stick blender (or use a liquidizer)

Mushroom soup

Heat the cream to a boil, add to soup with the rest of the parsley. Adjust seasoning

Mushroom soup

The soup is named from Bresse, an area of France famous for its food, and for being the home country of Brillat-Savarin. Grigson tells us that recipes from the area have ‘a fine simplicity of flavour which can only be created by using ingredients of the finest quality, without skimping’.

Well, that’s us told.

¾ lb mushrooms chopped (I like to use a mixture of large flat, white, and brown/chestnut to get the best flavour)
2 ozs butter (Do not use margarine EVER)
2 tbsps chopped parsley
small piece of garlic, chopped
salt, freshly ground black pepper
nutmeg or mace
a thick slice of bread
1 ¾ pints good stock (I’m afraid poor Jane wld roll in her grave as I use Marigold bouillon)
3-4 ozs cream

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Isabelle December 20, 2009 at 20:41

Mmmmm. Mushroom soup! One of my favorite comfort foods. My 89-year-old mother told me just recently how, when she was a little girl, her grandmother used bread crumbs to thickem soup. I had never heard of this before, & now–here you are! Recipe sounds delicious and I enjoyed the photos (especially the "parsley search"). Thank you! Merry Christmas to you and your family (including dogs, cats, and the sheep).


nevermind December 21, 2009 at 02:07

I consider myself (and am also considered by others) to be a master soup-maker. I make all kinds of soups, and always sans recipe. But mushroom soup, I always fail at. I'm going to try this recipe. I'm willing to eat humble pie if it means I can also get to eat this delicious looking soup.

* you got your degree in THEOLOGY?!!

** you DO have a well-turned ankle, even in clogs!

*** I need to buy Elizabeth David's book.


notSupermum December 21, 2009 at 02:15

I absolutely love mushrooms and I love making soup. I have a mushroom soup recipe but this one looks better – so I'll give this one a go later today. Just have to buy the mushrooms.


Eva Maria Chapman December 21, 2009 at 04:33

Loved your mushroom soup recipe. Out I go (in my wellies in the snow) to pick parsely. Will probably add dried crumbled ceps (which I picked in autumn) and garlic.


Make Do Style December 21, 2009 at 05:36

I love mushroom soup it is my favourite so I have to give this recipe a go.


pretty face December 21, 2009 at 07:01

This is an evil post, because I want that now!

Oh, and what nevermind said. I would love to hear more about your degree! xx


shayma December 21, 2009 at 08:14

how lucky (not naughty at all) to own such a beautiful book. sorry about your friend…
sending you hugs and best wishes for christmas and the new year. x


trialsandtribulationsofacitygirl December 21, 2009 at 16:56

Thanks for the recipe! I love mushrooms… its a little hot here in Australia for soup right now but i'll keep this in the sidelines until its winter!


Nate @ House of Annie January 6, 2010 at 23:52

Great recipe! I know what it feels like to step out into the cold night to forage for some kitchen herb I'd forgotten to pick before cooking.

Since you're using homegrown parsley, I would like you to enter this post in our Grow Your Own roundup this month. Full details at



Sarah January 24, 2010 at 08:20

Thanks so much for this – I've been making this soup for 40 years (from the original Elizabeth David recipe), but my copy of French Provincial Cookery has disintegrated, and I couldn't quite remember how to do it. Isn't the web fantastic! I just entered 'Elizabeth David mushroom soup and bread', and thanks to you there was the recipe.


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