When Tradition Meets Necessity: The Reintroduction of Soppin’ Bread

By Linsey Knerl on 22 December 2008 (Updated 18 September 2009) 22 comments

Many of the meals in my home contain sauce or gravy of some kind.  It’s a great way to get a little extra flavor and filling from the drippings of a fried meat or vegetable.  It also helps to make ordinary meat-potato-vegetable plates seem something more extravagant.  Plus, I really enjoy it. 

After watching my 5-year-old tear into his food like a rabid monkey for nights on end, I started to notice he was also growing.  This new growth spurt was making him a bit more cranky than normal.  It was also helping him to polish off at least two servings of food at each meal.  At the end of every meal, it was all I could do to keep him from licking the gravy or sauce off the plate.  (He was not a waster, and apparently really liked gravy, too.) 

I remembered what my Dad used to do at mealtimes with his gravy-laden plates.  He would take a piece of bread, fold it in half, and scrape the gravy from the plate like a squeegee – getting every last drop of sauce off the plate, and also giving him a more enjoyable way to eat the bread than typical butter or jam.  He used to call this “soppin’ bread.” 

After scolding my son for what seemed like the 80th time regarding his plate-licking attempts, my husband and I looked at one another, and then finished each other’s thoughts.  As backward as it had seemed growing up, the soppin’ bread was a great idea.  We showed my son how licking the plate was unacceptable, but that a piece of bread was a nicer (and more filling) way to get the job done.  He took to it right away.  He now asks for soppin’ bread at every meal. 

Before you go thinking that I’m filling my kid up with carbs, understand that a quality whole-wheat or multigrain bread is a fine way to supplement a meal.  Making it yourself with a bread maker is not only delicious, but ultra-affordable.  Instead of my son helping himself to another portion of meat or potatoes, he can get a nice, nutritious serving of fiber.  The time it takes him to eat the bread also gives him time to let his food settle a bit, which usually results in him not needing a second portion.  (Your brain doesn’t always realize that the stomach is full when meals are polished off so quickly.)   

Soppin’ bread can save money over the cost of often unnecessary second (or third) helpings.  It also gives a use to that small amount of uneaten sauce or gravy, and it can perfectly accompany soups and stews.  The savings (though small) can really add up for large families.  (Those of you who hand wash dishes will also appreciate how much easier your plates are to clean when the bread is used.) 

Like many meal mannerisms, there is a time and place for sopping.  (I’m sure I don’t have to tell you when it might not be favored.)  For a brief history of bread (and how it has been used to “sop” sauces and soups for centuries), check out this Wiki entry.

 

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Myscha Theriault's picture

Boy, does this bring back memories. Growing up, we used slices of bread for nearly anything saucy and extra on the plate.

Guest's picture
Barbara

Wow, have things changed with raising kids so much from when I was younger that, as the author, you have to pre-empt people from scolding you for giving your kids extra bread? I think it's a great idea versus more helpings. Growing up, my dad always insisted we have bread and butter on the table with dinner. I still eat that after dinner sometimes when I'm hungry.

Guest's picture
Mel

Couldn't agree more! Great Post

Guest's picture
Beth

This was common in our home growing up. Mom and Dad worked for not-for-profit religious schools in the 1970's and money was really tight.

Mom would always try to make something special, like chuck roast, for Sunday dinner. She made plenty of extra gravy, so that any of us not filled up with meat could have bread and gravy. I can remember having bread and gravy as the main dish for lunches occasionally, too.

We often had bean soup or bean-heavy chili, and Mom always served a big pan of cornbread with those meals. I learned to like eating beans because I had to get through a certain amount of them to be allowed to fill up on the cornbread. :)

Guest's picture
Ms. Ferret

I kind of assumed that everyone did this all the time -- no sense wasting all that good sauce! We sop up soup and spaghetti sauce with garlic bread, lamb + hummus with pita bread, curry sauce with naan, etc..

Linsey Knerl's picture

I kind of assumed everyone did it, too.  But I still remember my first lunch out with co-workers.  I used my bread to mop up some sauce.  I was very eloquent about it, cutting the bread with a fork and knife, and never letting my hands touch the bread.  They wondered why I was using my bread to "clean" my plate -- like I was a starving street urchin or something.  They insisted that I just order some extra sauce and "dip" the bread in.

Maybe it's a cultural thing, but it's not always seen as appropriate.  Leftover sauce seems to get a bad rap as something that's no longer fit for human consumption.  Weird, if you ask me.

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture
Ms. Ferret

Interesting! It might well be a cultural thing.
My coworkers laugh at me for bringing Tupperware to restaurants, too. :)

Guest's picture
Guest

That people WOULDN'T have grown up with bread at mealtimes. What's better than a soup or stew with a slice of bread or can you imagine a wonderful pasta without Italian bread alongside? I would think it would be weirder to NOT have bread to eat alongside.

Guest's picture
wildgift

I went to an Ethiopian restaurant, and the meal was served on top of a big piece of injera, their pancake-like flat bread. All the sauces and juices soaked right into it. It's pre-sopped!

Guest's picture
Matt

What else would you do with all that gravy/sauce? Does that get thrown away? I know in some countries it's a sign of gratitude to "clean" the plate with the bread -- I didn't know it was also being rude or crude! Weird!

Guest's picture
LizzieK8

Don't need to excuse oneself for eating all the food on one's plate. 'Nuff said.

Nor excuse oneself for feeding kids bread, especially homemade.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I have a good friend who is also Ethiopian. Last year was the first time I had eaten this kind of bread. It was very different in flavor at first, but it was a wonderful way to suck up all the juices from the sauce, and it was very filling. Thanks for bringing up this unique and tasty dish!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

I don't understand...

What's wrong with your kid licking his plate?

Guest's picture

Hi Linsey
What a sweet story about your growing son! I grew up in the south on a diet of beans and cornbread. A roast was featured as SUNDAY lunch and Sunday suppers were often gravy from the roast over toasted bread with tomatoes run under the broiler. SO good!
In many cultures, bread is used as individual "spoons" for the communal bowl of food.
Loved this post and am looking forward to reading often!

Guest's picture
Guest

How sad that people laugh when you bring a Tupperware bowl filled with left overs to work! Seems to me these people do not understand the value of a dollar until they need one! Well maybe you can clean out your Tupperware put it on your desk with a sign that says "Donations Excepted" MMMM.

For me Sopping bread is a huge part of my culture. We always used it for meals Dad had seven children to feed! We always ate bread wit spaghetti and there's NOTHING like a good old piece of sopping bread to get up the rest of the sauce! Hit the spot too! We didn't grow up fat from eating bread either!!s Sopping bread is also good with beef stew!!!! MMMMMMM

Guest's picture
wyndwalkr

Even if you serve white bread, it is a step up from having a sugar-laden dessert. Maybe soppin' means dessert can be skipped often. But 100% whole wheat bread, while it makes a delish Turkey lettuce and mayo sandwich, is pretty strong flavored for soppin'. I think so and I'll bet many kids would think so, too. If you don't bake your own breads, I suggest a multi-grain or oatmeal bread to get a better bread into your kids, without turning them off with the strong dark stuff. Some companies even have breads called "Kids Choice" which look close to white bread but have extra nutrition. Yum for soppin' that juice/sauce/gravy!

Guest's picture
CG

If you want 100% whole wheat bread, use "white whole wheat" flour. It's still whole wheat, but made from a different strain of wheat and is milder tasting and gives a finer texture than what most people think of as "whole wheat". I bake my own bread (my breadmaker is used at least once a week), and my favorite recipe uses white whole wheat flour, water, molasses, gluten (necessary to make the flour rise well) yeast, olive oil and salt (the minimum necessary to control the growth of the yeast) - sometimes I add some flaxseed meal. That's about as healthy as it gets, and it's excellent for soppin'!

Guest's picture
virginia

I can't imagine NOT sopping up the sauce of a good meal with a nice piece of bread. That's one of life's simple pleasures. Good for you for passing it on to your son.

Guest's picture
mom, again

You can be even more old fashioned about it: you've heard of Yorkshire pudding? (If you haven't, it's a puffy, non-sweet, pancake like food cooked in the drippings of a roast). Traditionally, the pudding is served before the meat. Partly cause it is at it's best when fresh & hot, partly becuase a big helping of carby, gravy covered goodness BEFORE the meat is served lets Mum serve smaller servings of meat.

In France, a pot roast type meal is served as two courses: first the broth from the pot as a soup, with or without the vegetables. With bread though. Then the meat with veg if they weren't in the soup. If Mere really wants to stretch the meal, it might even be soup (w/bread), veg (w/bread) and finally the meat. Before the soup, the family is highly likely to have had a starter involving yet more veg. Note: when I say first course, second course, I mean that item is served and finished before the next item is served. The French, they eat very slowly.

Both these methods mean the family is filled with their non-meat nutrition first, as well as slowing the meal down so the body knows it's full.

Guest's picture
mom, again

My brother was, and is still, king of the 'leftover sandwich'. Place slice of bread in bowl. Top with heated leftovers (Beans, veg & gravy, soup, spaghetti & sauce, casserole, whatever), top with second piece of bread. Eat with utensils, you can't pick this sandwich up!

Guest's picture
Guest

I really liked this story and relate quite well to this entire subject. I grew up in a lower-middle-class family "Down South" with five kids and learned the "clean your plate" lesson quite well. It was only when I was 18 and went away to a Northeastern college that I realized there was indeed something, well, gauche, about the whole notion of the clean plate, whether that meant sopping up the extra sauce or gravy with a roll or just plain not leaving any leftovers. I am now in my early 50s and having spent my entire adulthood in the NY/NJ/CT area, it seems to have grown increasingly more abundant. It shows up in wierd places and my wife (a truly misplaced Depression baby) sees it a lot as a stay at home mom. She was quite upset when the room mother at our son's holiday party tossed the six hardly-used Wilton cake-icing containers into the trash without asking her first. Then, when you DO ask, they make you feel like a pauper or a street person.

There is something cultural to it: I have noticed that the people of the Baby Boomer generation and younger are the worst offenders. It's almost as if they are still rebelling against the scarcity and frugality "imposed" on them by their parents - when in fact a lot of it is just plain common sense. If there could ever be a bright note about the current recession, it might be a correction in people's attitudes about abundance!

Guest's picture
Guest

What is the world coming to when we have to re-introduce soppin' bread? There is nothing better than a piece of good bread dripping with gravy off your plate!