I’m sure I’ve written about sippets before; I don’t know how many people know what they are, I certainly didn’t until I met my mother-in-law. At the time I thought I knew a lot about food, coking, recipes and a general historical understanding of it all. My mother-in-law was famous among my husband’s friends for food that she made for them, especially late at night when they came in from gigs, her cheese fluff (I still don’t have the recipe) was famed and still reverently spoken of. She was a school cook, in the days when school dinners were cooked from scratch, and I have her recipe book which she had as head of the kitchens of local primary schools.
Back to sippets. Mother-in-law had made us soup and brought through a dish of small, perfectly regularly cut, uniformly golden and toasted cubes of bread to sprinkle on it. She said they were sippets and I was intrigued, never having heard the term before. I realised what they were, croutons, of course – except the old English name precedes the French. The French word which comes from the word for crust, is first noted in 1806, sippets date back over a hundred years before that:
- 1685, Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook: “Then have sippets finely carved, and some slices of French bread in the bottom of the dish, dish three pieces of Mutton, and one in the middle, and between the mutton three Chickens, and up in the middle, the Partridge, and pour on the broth with your herbs, then put on your pipkin over all, of Marrow, Artichocks, and the other materials, then Carved Lemon, Barberries and beaten Butter over all, your carved sippets round the dish.”
- 1764, Elizabeth Moxon, English Housewifery Exemplified: “Garnish your dish with sippets, lemon, and a few pickled mushrooms.”
Nell Heaton in her small but densely written war-time book ‘Cookery To-Day and To-Morrow’ has a recipe in the garnishes and flavourings section:
Croûtons or Sippets
Croûtons are used for soups. They are made by cutting slices of bread into ⅓ inch thick, cutting these into small strips and again into small portions. They are then dried in the oven for a few minutes, then put into a frying pan with a little margarine and fried until golden brown, drained, dried off and kept hot till required.
These are different from croûtes, apparently as these are slices of bread cut into heart or diamond shapes about 2 inches long and 1½ inch wide, and then fried in the same way as the croûtons. Another even easier garnish is fried bread crumbs – I must remember to save them next time I cut fresh bread!