Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Robert Cain’s Tapioca Wine Soup

Welcome back! I am taking a little detour from my mission to cook every recipe in the 1929 Photoplay cookbook in order to bring you this little recipe from 1915. The author, Robert Cain, is all but forgotten but I have to tell you that it’s no exaggeration to say that this recipe has taken over my life.

(Catch up on all my taste tests here.)

Let’s start at the beginning. Thanks to a very odd mushroom soup recipe credited to Francis X. Bushman, I found myself in possession of most of a bag of tapioca pearls and no imminent plans to make tapioca pudding.

Hoping to find another vintage recipe that would use these little pearls, I stumbled across Robert Cain’s rather strange wine soup creation. Who the heck is Robert Cain? The same question crossed my mind. I looked him up and noticed that he had played Alan Breck in a 1917 adaptation of Kidnapped.

And this is where I shamelessly plug the upcoming home video release of “Kidnapped”

Kidnapped happens to be one of my favorite books and Alan Breck one of my favorite characters. I took a peek at the Library of Congress and discovered that they held the only copy. Now I was really interested. I took the plunge and asked if there were any restrictions that would prevent the film from being released. There were none. The rest is history.

So, there was obviously no way I could NOT make this recipe.

The dish is quite similar to a Brazilian tapioca and wine dessert. (h/t @fabulatrix) The Brazilians top theirs with a custard sauce, which sounds like a brilliant, tasty touch.

I went digging further into the recipe’s origins and found that it was included as a recommended food for wounded soldiers in a 1912 military surgeon periodical.

Fannie Farmer includes the recipe in her 1918 cookbook with no reference to it being a food for the ill. What all versions have in common is that they call for claret wine.

What the heck is a claret? I’m a very busy weirdo. I only have time to be snobby about one beverage and tea is it. (Microwave a tea bag to see me faint.) My expertise in the wine department begin and end with “I drink it” but I am also a devoted viewer of classic British television and if Fawlty Towers taught me one thing, besides how to make a Waldorf salad, it is that a Bordeaux is a claret. (Celery! Apples! Walnuts! Grapes! In mayonnaise!)

Of course, Bordeaux can mean a lot of things, so I chose a blend called Black Ink because I like the bottle. So there. Let’s face it, we’re dumping a metric ton of sugar and tapioca and cinnamon into this thing. This ain’t the time to dust off the old Robert Picard vintage. Two Buck Chuck will serve just fine. Is it wet and red and alcoholic? Good. (That being said, I thought that Black Ink was super tasty in my capacity of a wine philistine.)

Tapioca comes in various styles and sizes. I used Bob’s Red Mill Small Pearl Tapioca but I can see this recipe working really well with large pearls that hold their shape a little better.

Soaked and drained
Bubble bubble

Here’s the thing to remember: NONE of the wine cooks off in this recipe. It will give you the full impact of the alcohol, for better or worse.

Wine and tapioca

While the wine was chilling, I prepared a simple vanilla custard. I liked that idea of the custard sauce and since this is a wine soup and rather thin, I swapped the ratios: delicious custard topped with the wine sauce.

I spooned custard into some wine glasses and topped it with some of the wine soup and…


Score: 2 out of 5 stars. Yeah, this is strong. Really strong. None of my tasters are strangers to alcohol and most like wine and it was a bit too much for them.  I think most people are used to the idea of wine desserts having a bit of the alcohol cooked off and this is a surprise. I can see why this would be popular with wounded soldiers!

I’ve noticed that other wine recipes replace some of the alcohol with grape juice and this seems to be a good plan for modern taste.

It makes a pretty display but most of my tasters preferred the vanilla custard to the wine soup.

If I were to make this again, I would definitely use grape or cranberry juice for some or all of the color and flavor. But to be honest, I am far more likely to make that tasty custard again with a raspberry sauce.


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  1. Marie Roget

    My first thought on reading Cain’s recipe was that it sounds like a unique wine cocktail masquerading as dessert- apparently not far from the mark per the MS tasters! Perhaps Tapioca Wine “Soup” would work out well as one of many layers in a tallish parfait glass (either that or the latest wine bar sensation). It’s certainly worth a try at home with half claret and half cranberry or grape juice to cut down on that amazing alcohol content.

    Tapioca Wine Soup might have been a hit filling cast and crew thermos bottles for those lengthy shoots at the Kidnapped castle locations, if the Edison budget hadn’t been so very tight, that is. Can just hear the stern lecture coming down from the studio because of dozens of tipsy re-takes 😉

  2. ostjudebarbie

    do you think if this was touted as a drink it would be more palatable? like a boozy bubble tea type thing? i think something like this being called “soup” would be a buzzkill but in different packaging could be sort of fun

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