Romancing the Pea in Any Given Soup

The very sweetness of the carrot  seemed to reach out and grasp her throat from the inside in much the same way her neck had been grasped from the outside no more than an hour before. And with the same manner the man had of lifting her by her neck while slamming her head against the marble front of the fireplace it left her unable to breathe the single tiniest gasp of air. The sweetness had punctured her in some unguarded place – and though she sat very still, as still as a statue, and made not a single sound, the tears rolled from her eyes in waves, silently drenching the other carrot on the lifted spoon as she bent her head further over the soup so no one would notice.

There are many reasons for not having one recipe for any given thing. Cultural preferences, religion, health, variety, history and emotion all come into play when we think of how to cook what we want to eat, or what we wish to cook for others to eat. The act of creating a ‘personal’ cuisine, no matter how simple or unadorned or stylish it may be, is one of the most satisfying things a person can do in life – that is, if one likes to be in the kitchen at all (and some do not).

My own finished split pea soup (pictured above) is quite simple. There are no carrots in my recipe – but this does not mean that the recipe can not be adapted, fitted to any other number of varieties of tastes! Here then, is the Periodic Table of Split Pea Elements. It is not complete – no list of adaptations of any recipe ever really could be! But it’s a start.

Parts of the Soup and other Elements Interchangable


Ham Stock

Chicken Stock

Vegetable Stock


Split Peas:

Not going to go there today

Flavorings and Definings (Groups):

(Onion or other Allium, Bay Leaf, Celery, Dill, Nutmeg)

(Onion, Thyme, Potato, Carrot)

(Garlic, Cumin, Hot Peppers, Green Tomatoes)

(Onion, Garlic, Dried Mushrooms, Barley, Celeriac, Parnsips)

(Onion, Garlic, Garam Masala, Coconut Milk, Tomatoes, Potatoes, Spinach)

Here are five. It’s a start.

In later years she found that carrots in split pea soup, even with all the sweetness they held in opposition to the strong muskiness of the split peas so much themselves like fog on a narrow London street on a quiet morning when only the sparrows and she were out and about, held the solidly bitter taste of a sea of tears. The memory of the place she had escaped to that day soon after her fourteenth birthday was to be forever clear to her – the very blandness of its exterior, the feel of the awkward pottery bowl, the place where she’d found someone she knew, someone who made homemade soup.

On Not Being a Princess In the World of Pea Soups

In the previous post we started dealing with ham shanks. Let’s continue. I’m assuming you want to make a soup. If you don’t, you should. But there are a few things to remember during the process: 1) You’re not on Iron Chef. Believe it or not. So just do what you are comfortable with – you don’t have to prove anything to anybody. 2) You will need to get your hands dirty. If your manicure matters more to you than life itself, the levels of success in cookery you’ll reach will necessarily be limited. Princesses, who can feel peas bothering them under ten mattresses, must get real if they want to be able to cook something decent to eat.

Here is the stock from the ham shank. There is fat on the surface, yes. Delicious, robust, flavorful fat. Leave it, unless you can not eat it for some reason.

Then we have the ham itself.  If you are like me, you like to take the ham off the bone the way it wants to come off the bone. You don’t need a knife, only some fingers that know what to do. Start pulling the little pieces of meat apart – some will be big and will make you think of Hungry Man dinners. Others will be tiny little shred-like things which will remind you of embroidery thread and Jane Austen.

The tender little white pieces of soft fat again can be left on, just not too much. Of course if you tend towards liking things in neat little squares these ham bits can be made so. I prefer the difference in texture which both large and small together give in the eating.

Ah! There is a bone there, isn’t there! Yes. If you are lucky enough to have a bone with marrow soft enough for a knife tip to bend into gently, you are lucky indeed! No, this is not marrow of the sort placed upright on a plate, roasted, honored, bestowed with huge pricetags on the menu. This is the unknown marrow, and it is free. Nobody needs to know about it but you. Just put your lips onto the bone and suck. See what happens.

Tell me if  you like it!

After all is said and done, the soup must be finished. Go to the Garden of Peas.

The Garden of Peas has everything you need to finish the soup. Oh. With the exception of some dill (be generous), some ground black pepper (be smart), and some nutmeg (be careful). The Gloomy Bear in the corner of the garden is only there to guard it – adding him to the soup is optional.

Chop the celery and the onion (add another onion – there should be lots of onion) and put the peas, celery, onion, and seasonings into the ham stock. Again, get lazy. Let the soup simmer for an hour to an hour and a half. It will appear as if it all melted together. One note! Add water when needed so that  your soup is the texture and thickness you want. I added a good amount of water to this batch, and will show you the results tomorrow. Why tomorrow? Because I am too lazy now.

At the end of the simmering, stir in the ham and allow it all to heat together. I assure you . . . this is seriously better than being a Princess.

Not Only Slow But Delightfully Lazy (Split Pea Soup)

Split pea soup, the way I make it, is one of the laziest things in the world to make. It is lazy in a good way, lazy in the way of afternoons with open books and time to read them . . . lazy in the way of a comforting lull that demands very little, but which will eventually yield a lot.

What you need to start is smoked ham shanks. You’ll see what they look like in the photo above. They need to be meaty! And no, boneless ham of whatever sort can not be substituted. There are reasons for this, but if you don’t already know what the reasons are you will later, after tasting the soup when it’s done.

Lazily take the shanks (or hocks, that is another word for pretty much the same thing) along with some bay leaves and put them in a pot. Cover them with cold water, chilly water, water like a spring tumbling down the mountainside if there were one there! And put the pot over low heat, very low heat, heat like the warmth of a cat’s belly when the cat is only purring at the lowest purr.

Go off and do something else. Do whatever you wish! Every now and then check back to see that the surface of the water in the pot is shimmering slightly, but never boiling or roiling or sputtering. Keep it lazy. But don’t worry if it does boil. Just reduce the heat, and if some water has boiled off, add more to top it off, to cover the meat.

After about two hours, stick a fork into the shank. If the meat is starting to fall off the bones, remove the pot from the heat. If it still feels tense, leave it on for another half hour to an hour. Even ham shanks are different than each other in ways, so there’s no use trying to give an exact detail. Just feel it and know it.

Let the pot and the shanks cool off, but for not more than two hours. Then cover the pot and put it in the fridge and forget about it, till tomorrow.

A little bit of this, and a little bit of that, but a little bit different than how the soup is made starting about forty-five seconds into this clip below. Nonetheless, when we’ve made the soup the adaptations can be ladled out generously (and for those who do not like meaty smoked ham shanks they can even be left out entirely)! We’ll address that with the Periodic Table of Split Pea Soup Elements, after all is lazily done over the next few posts.

Peas (Like Atoms) Split

The carrot hung in the bowl of soft velvet pea soup like a missile, a bright orange missile ready to self-destruct, just the size of a man’s thumb. This was to be her first bite. Nothing was very enticing about any of this – not the name ‘Split Pea Soup’, not the bowl of glazed pottery resembling a mistake thrown and shaped by a first-time potter at a summer camp for young Christians, not the spoon tin-cheap and slightly bent.

Homemade split pea soup. The spoon scooped the carrot.

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I’d like to have a bunch of little fat and skinny men all dressed in white dashing to and fro splitting peas, creating an atmosphere of care and passion, throwing delicious things into steaming steel cauldrons for me to approve of and to finally eat.

And so it is, apparently, at Andersen’s Restaurant. Hap-Pea and Pea-Wee await me there. Of course I’d have to go cross-country to California, where people have been before me – where people went to grow and split peas then to open restaurants all based upon split pea soup.

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There never had been such a taste as when the carrot touched the tongue, when it melted, exploded, missile-like, hot and sweet.

The green depth of brothy peas (split) swam around the carrot taste as if a river unbended.

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When atoms split, miracles occur. And so it is with peas.

Poor Man’s Feast has a lovely recipe for split pea soup. Tomorrow I’ll post my own recipe here, with some ideas for further diversions and divertissements.