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Etymologically, broth is ‘that which has been brewed’; the word comes ultimately from the same prehistoric Germanic source as modern English brew. From earliest times it was used for the ‘liquid in which something is boiled’, and the ‘something’ could be vegetable as well as animal (‘Broth of the leaves [of broom] abateth swelling of the spleen,’ John de Trevisa, De Proprietatibus Rerum, 1398). By the seventeenth century it was becoming largely restricted to the ‘liquid in which meat is boiled’, and more particularly to a thin soup made from this with the addition of vegetables, cereal grains, etc. (the term Scotch broth dates from at least the early eighteenth century), although memories of the earlier more general sense survived into the early twentieth century in snow-broth, ‘melted snow’.

The proverb ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’ is first recorded in Sir Balthazar Gerbier's Three Chief Principals of Magnificent Building, 1665.

Subjects: Cookery, Food, and Drink.

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