"Prothalamion" for Daughter Meg
...and her Wedding Soup
(e-SoupSong 61: June 1, 2004)
ONCE UPON A TIME a child was born--and somehow she has grown into the most beautiful daughter a mother could ever love. Now, this month, my dearest Meg joins her heart and life to Nathan in a classic Northwest ceremony: banked in flowers, Puget Sound at our feet, the Olympic mountains towering over our large gathering of family and friends, champagne, salmon...and an espresso bar. Of course.
Is my heart too full to write a proper soupsong? You know it is.
But my old mentor, 16th century poet Edmund Spenser, is equal to the task. He was, in fact, the subject of that doctoral dissertation that never got finished when, as Meg says, I decided to get my MRS degree and start a family with her instead. So, in a sense, he was very much involved in things when she came into being. Is it a coincidence that he was married himself on the very same date as Meg's wedding? I don't think so.
In 1596, Spenser created a new poetic form: a "spousall verse" or PROTHALAMION that celebrated the approaching double marriage of the Earl of Worcester's two daughters. Elizabeth and Katherine were scheduled to proceed up the Thames River by barge just before their nuptials to visit Essex House. Accordingly Spenser imagines them transformed into heavenly swans "floating on the christal flood"--and imagines encountering them quite by chance as he wanders down to the banks of "silver streaming Thames." He reports in exquisite cadences that river spirits also see them, shower them with fresh picked flowers, and call out this song to them:
"Ye gentle birdes, the worlds fair ornament,
And heavens glorie, whom this happie hower
Doth leade unto your lovers blissfull bower,
Joy may you have and gentle hearts content
Of your loves complement:
And let faire Venus, that is Queene of Love,
With her heart-quelling sonne upon you smile,
Whose smile, they say, hath vertue to remove
All loves dislike, and friendships faultie guile
Forever to assoile.
Let endless peace your steadfast hearts accord,
And blessed plentie wait upon your bord;
And let your bed with pleasures chast abound,
That fruitfull issue may to you afford,
Which make your joyes redound,
Upon your brydale day, which is not long:
Sweete Themmes, run softlie, till I end my song."
Dear Meg, this is my heartfelt song to you as you approach your brydale day, which truly is not long.
And here is the recipe for your nuptial soup, not at all traditional, which we'll serve out for dessert before the cutting of the cake:
ELEGANT MELON-BERRY REFRESHER (for 4-6 people in small, fancy cups)
This small iced soup is sophisticated, easy, and multi-purpose: it can open a beautiful dinner on a hot summer night...be served as a palate cleanser between courses of a rich dinner...or close an elegant meal as a dessert and digestif, in this case right before the cutting of the wedding cake. Make both soups in advance, then assemble at the last minute.
The Melon Soup
The Strawberry Soup
1 pint strawberries
1 very fine grinding of pepper
1/4 teaspoon balsamico vinegar
- 1 small melon, cut into 1-inch cubes (making about 2 cups puree)
- 1 Tablespoon good grade honey
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1Tablespoon water
Ice water for thinning soups to equal consistencies, as necessary, before assembling the soup.
Garnish: 4-6 small scoops of highest quality berry sorbet (don't skimp here!) and 4-6 fresh rasberries for garnish
Puree the melon cubes with honey, salt, and water. Pour into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate. Puree the strawberries with pepper and balsamico. Strain, then pour into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
When ready to serve, stir both purees and evaluate their consistency. Thin whichever one is thicker (usually the strawberries) with enough ice water to make it the same consistency as the other.
Measure a scant 1/4 cup of melon puree into each of the chilled cups, then measure a scant 1/4 cup of berry puree into the center of the melon puree. Swirl gently, then top each with a small scoop of sorbet topped with a rasberry. Serve immediately.
* * *
So Meg, I imagine you swanlike in your beautiful dress, laughing as we all finish spooning up this soup. You get up to cut the cake with Nathan. A brilliant sunset sparkles behind you on the snow of the Olympics and on Puget Sound's "christal flood"--okay, or a gentle shower of rain patters behind you on the snow and on that christal flood. Whatever. It's going to be glorious.
p.s. To my readers who may be in a similar state of happy expectation: you can find plenty of traditional bridal soups at www.soupsong.com/ioccasio.html or in my book, Exaltation of Soups. And please check out Spenser's AMORETTI, which chronicles the poet's wooing of his own bride, Elizabeth Boyle, and his EPITHALAMION, the nuptial hymn he wrote to her that captures their wedding day from dawn to midnight. Fabulous!
NEXT MONTH: The Life and Soups of George Bernard Shaw