I made green split pea soup today. I made it on a sunny, hot day. Not exactly season appropriate, I know, but it must be something I inherited from my family. I’ve known many occasions where my mother’s kitchen was a sweltering storm of steamy meat and cake vapors on the hottest day of the year. I put it down to stubbornness, I guess. I made a set list of things to make for my blog, now that time is on my hands, and ended up scheduling for today what should have been started three days ago on a rainy, cold day. It ended up being quite warm today.
I don’t know that all my scheduled testing will go as well as today’s. This recipe from the Whitehouse Cookbook could have gone awry but everything just seemed to feel natural and fall into place. Albeit the recipe has more measurements in it than others in the book, looks can be deceiving and guesses can go quite wrong. It was suggested to use lean ham or bacon for the meat. I made a compromise and used Canadian bacon. It gave a nice flavour to the soup. I suppose I can still test it with actual ham or with actual bacon because this soup is definitely a keeper.
I imagine this split pea soup, called “Split Pea Soup No. 1”, could have been a very economical dish in any time period, let alone the Victorian age. It didn’t have a lot of ingredients and not too much of any one thing. If you added more water to it, it could have satisfied a family for more than one sitting. I read on some web pages not to use baking soda with the split peas (causes loss of nutrients, so I understand) but I am trying to keep to as much ingredient accuracy as possible when I test so it stayed in. I guessed the quantity of celery because there was no suggestion. I tried two stalks, which equalled about a cup, because the wording said “some celery” which may have suggested more than a single stalk. In pepper, I went with a half teaspoon. I noticed that the part about removing the meat for the blending stage never said whether to keep the meat for the soup once it had been blended or to use it elsewhere. I made the call of keeping it. I’m sure some of my Victorian counterparts may have made the same choice.
The original :
SPLIT PEA SOUP. No. 1.
Wash well a pint of split peas and cover them well with cold water, adding a third of a teaspoonful of soda; let them remain in it over night to swell. In the morning put them in a kettle with a close fitting cover. Pour over them three quarts of cold water, adding half a pound of lean ham or bacon cut into slices or pieces; also a teaspoonful of salt and a little pepper, and some celery chopped fine. When the soup begins to boil, skim the froth from the surface. Cook slowly from three to four hours, stirring occasionally till the peas are [Pg 36]all dissolved, adding a little more boiling water to keep up the quantity as it boils away. Strain through a colander, and leave out the meat. It should be quite quick. Serve with small squares of toasted bread, cut up and added. If not rich enough, add a small piece of butter.
SPLIT PEA SOUP. No. 1 (A Modern Interpretation)
2 cups green split peas
1/3 tsp. baking soda
12 cups fresh, cold water
½ lb (~250 g) Canadian Bacon, chopped into quarters
1 cup finely chopped celery (about two stalks)
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
3 thick slices of french bread / homemade bread, cubed 1 inch square
1) In a large ceramic or glass bowl, place peas, baking soda and enough water to cover peas by about 1 inch. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave out overnight on the counter.
2) In the morning (if making this for lunch), dump swelled peas into a colander and rinse to clean.
3) Place cleaned peas into a kettle or dutch oven. Cover peas with 12 cups of water. Add quarters of bacon, chopped celery, salt and pepper. Stir up contents briefly
4) Bring mix to a boil in uncovered kettle/dutch oven. As the heat increases gradually, scum will rise to the surface. Skim as much of the white foam off of the surface as you can. It should take about 10 to 20 minutes for most of the scum to rise and begin to boil clearly.
5) When mix comes to a boil, turn it down to a gentle boil and cook for 2 ½ hours. You can add more water to it if the peas aren’t breaking down. Make sure the water you add is boiling hot.
6) When the soup is almost done, take the cubed bread and place on a baking sheet lined with tin foil. Place under a broiler on low. Keep a careful watch on the bread. Take out once it becomes golden on one side and flip each piece to toast briefly on the other side until golden. Remove, set aside and allow to cool.
7) Remove each piece of Canadian bacon into a dish and set aside. Allow peas to cool slightly. You can blend through a colander as suggested in the original Victorian recipe or you can go modern and use an immersion blender (as I did*) or, if much cooled, a regular blender, section by section.
8) I took the set aside bacon and cut it into fine dice. It will be easy as it has been cooked for some time.
9) Ladle soup into bowls, decorate with diced bacon and a handful of toasted cubes.
* Yeah, I know it isn’t era-appropriate but this IS a modern interpretation after all. I’m sure if they had it, they’d have used it. It’s the taste as much as the preparation from scratch that I consider to be the more important in the interpretation. What this really is, after all, though, is an excuse to make less dishes to wash.
* You could add salted butter at the end but I suspect that most ham and bacon adds seasoning enough. I didn’t but I suppose it might by a nice addition. I might have if I’d had salted butter but, alas, I did not.