Split Pea and Ham Soup – So Delish Even I Liked It!

This one’s especially for Pat Gilmore, who now lives in California but resided in Windsor, Ontario (Canada) when I first met her at an IWWG (International Women’s Writing Guild) “Remember the Magic” summer conference in 1995. We were “suite mates” in the dorm and took the same playwriting class every day of that magical week at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs. Upon reading a mention of my making this soup – either in an e-mail or on this blog – Pat wrote that she was looking forward to the post about split pea soup because it’s one of her favorites. She’s not particularly into cooking but loves reading my blog “stories.” Perhaps, however, this recipe might tempt her into her kitchen, a bag of split peas in hand.

If you’re wondering why I’d be crazy enough to include the words, “…Even I Liked It” in the title of a foodblog post, I’d be willing to admit it doesn’t exactly sound like an invitation to try this recipe. Not until you realize – as I am now telling you – that I never liked pea soup. So for me to say Even I Liked It is a big deal.

"Memory's Garden (Losing Ground)" Artist Trading Card by MariLyn; original photo of Mom by Kristen Day

Granted, I did not have a lot of exposure to pea soup, with or without ham, growing up. Mom didn’t make it, nor did she buy it in cans (if it was even available canned in the 50s and 60s at all?). In fact, thinking back I don’t believe any “from scratch” soups were made in our house other than the beef-vegetable soup Dad made on occasion (which was also his clam chowder, minus the clams, plus the beef). I don’t think our chicken soup was ever created from real foods; it always seemed to come in care of the Campbell Soup Company, mushy noodles and all.

My first taste of pea soup (and I believe it included ham) was delivered to our house in the late 80s, after I’d had surgery and was on leave from work for six weeks. A co-worker (she was a parole officer who worked down the hall, not in Counsel’s Office with me), who happened to live only a few blocks away from us, was kind enough to make a batch of the stuff and drive it over to our home. This was when I learned that my husband l-o-v-e-s split pea soup. Slurping my first taste, I decided it was okay but nothing I’d indulge in often. I ate a small bowl and left the rest for Bill to finish off over the next couple of days. I much preferred the raisin bran muffins Jean (the P.O.) had gifted us with a few days beforehand, indicating that the fiber was much needed “to get the system going again” after the surgery, a tactful suggestion!

Late last year (sometime in December?), I sighted a small bag of split peas in a local supermarket and – for some unfathomable reason – decided it might be nice to try making split pea soup as a nice surprise for Bill. Perhaps it was one of Bob’s Red Mill products, a favorite source of flours and grains for me. I don’t remember. Whatever the product name, I noticed an easy-sounding recipe on the back of the package so I threw the bag into my shopping cart, carried it home with the rest of the groceries and stored it in a cabinet on the shelf partially designated for soups and broths – where it sat for at least a couple of months. That’s the nice thing about dried grains: they can do that, wait for the cook to get re-inspired… or to simply realize they have to DO something with that bag of beans because otherwise it will keep making her feel guilty that she spent that money and it’s still freakin’ sitting there, staring at her every time she opens the cabinet!

I’m afraid the latter explanation was my kick-in-the-butt to do something with those split peas. That, plus the fact that I’d finally baked the small ham up I’d bought a few weeks earlier, serving it with sauerkraut (with caraway seeds and brown sugar), buttered carrots and baked potato – and the leftover ham was now calling to me too (geez, food ganging up on me – a losing battle?). What to do with it, other than slipping bits of ham into an omelet? That bag of green split peas stared out at me as I opened the cabinet, and that was that.

I glanced at the recipe on the back of the bag, noted what I liked about it, and then headed straight to my best soup reference (already mentioned a few times on this blog), A Celebration of Soups by Robert Ackart. Sure enough, with several adjustments (including deleting a ham bone from the list of ingredients), I created the soup pictured in this post, recipe below. Topped with a bit of sour cream and a few large croutons, I discovered that I could, in fact, love split pea soup with ham. So much so that I enjoyed leftovers the next day even more.

Before gifting readers with the recipe, how about some witchy/goddessy info about its main ingredient? Flecked, perhaps, with a bit of nutrition. And even a bit of food history. (You can skip this part if it bores you, or if you really want the basics of making the soup, like now!)

Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (2003 edition, Llewellyn Publications) lists the “Energies” of the pea as Love. Cunningham states that peas have always been sacred to the Mother Goddess and that, during the Inquisition, peas were thought to be standard food of “Witches.” (Let’s get this straight: those who were hung, drowned or burned at the stake as witches during The Burning Times, i.e., especially Middle Ages, were generally women who followed the old ways of healing and may have owned their own property, both of which were frowned upon by the increasingly powerful and patriarchal Church; and they were often accused out of fear, ignorance, greed or just plain envy.) Under “Magical Uses,” Cunningham suggests cooking peas with basil, coriander, dill or marjoram – and visualizing the dish as “a powerful love attractant” while doing so. Then, of course, you must eat them.

Something was missing from the above, I thought, as I researched the “magical” aspects of peas. They’re green, so surely there must be some association with money, abundance. After all, the roots of magic are partly in visualizing what you wish for, and color plays a huge part in that. I started Googling and found “Peas” listed in an “Herb Grimoire” at a site called The Magickal Cat and, yup, under the “Magickal Uses” column it reads, “Money and Love.” I imagine one might even burn a green candle while supping on pea soup, just to strengthen the desire and plea for money or abundance (in all areas, perhaps, such as creativity, friendships, etc.). Keep in mind, however, that one never asks for something from the Universe at the expense of someone else’s safety or happiness. “Whatsoever you send out into the Universe returns to you threefold.” (Just as Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”) Send out evil, expect it to return to you in a really unhealthy dose. (I know this is hard to believe when you see the bad guys screwing up the world, or your little section of it, but I continue to hope it’s true.)

My next stop on the pea-research tour was another book on my shelf: 100 Best Health Foods: The Ultimate Superfoods for Healthy Living Including 100 Nutritious Recipes (Love Food, an imprint of Paragon Books Ltd, 2009). I’m not so naïve as to be unaware that the “Top 100” (or “Top 50” or “Top AnyNumber”) of healthiest foods changes as more scientific research uncovers evidence of different nutrients and what they do for the body when ingested. In fact, it’s being found that whether or not you cook them, and what you eat along with them, also affects its impact on your health. But this book specifically lists nutrients and their potential effects upon this poor l’il ol’ bod of mine – so I like it. Here’s a little of what it has to offer re Peas, which incidentally is listed as #34 amongst the 100:

  • Very high in both lutein and zeaxanthin content, which translates to helping protect eyes against macular degeneration
  • Rich source of Vitamin C, fiber, and protein, also helpful for the eyes
  • Rich in carotenes (benefits the eyes as well)
  • B Vitamins helpful toward protection against osteoporosis and possibly against strokes
  • For vegetarians, helpful as a source of protein (which, for meat-eaters, would be easily acquired through meat and poultry consumption)
  • Fiber also helps to lower “bad” cholesterol and might help prevent heart disease
  • Frozen peas often contain more Vitamin C and other nutrients than fresh peas (even those still in their pods) because they’re usually frozen within hours of harvesting, whereas the “fresh” ones could be several days old.

The page containing the above info, I noticed, is opposite one headed “Chilled Pea Soup.” I’m wondering what the chances are that, since I’ve acquired a taste for the hot dish, ingredients listed on that page might find its way into my “cauldron” on some over-warm summer day.

One last shot before the recipe:

When I trekked upstairs to the kitchen to grab a book to check out health benefits of peas, I pulled down The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook by Dinah Bucholz (Adams Media, 2010). Witchy-wizardy enough to merit a glance, I figured. No mention of “Peas” in the index but then there was “Pease Pudding,” supposedly inspired by a passage out of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Could it be… Yes! Made with either yellow or green split peas!

Bill happened to be coming through the door from the garage as I walked downstairs with the book and I couldn’t resist asking him, “Do you remember the nursery rhyme that went, Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot nine days old?” Of course, he did. “Well,” I continued, “ it says in here [pointing to the cover of the book] that the rhyme “was inspired by pease pudding (which used to be called pease pottage in the Middle Ages) or pease porridge.” It’s an old dish that’s still consumed today, alongside bacon or sausages (possibly roast beef or chicken too). Bill said he wouldn’t mind trying it someday, although I have a feeling that the promise of the addition of bacon or sausages to the meal made the menu item sound infinitely more appealing to him!

SPLIT PEA AND HAM SOUP, MARILYN’S VERSION
Yield: 12-14 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 cups split green peas
  • 1 medium-size carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large rib celery, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 8 cups vegetable or chicken broth, or water (broth is my preference)
  • a “dash” of Worcestershire sauce (no more than 1 teaspoon)
  • leftover ham, chopped – 1 cup, more or less (some to be added before pureeing, bulk added afterward)
  • sea salt or kosher salt
  • fresh-ground pepper
  • milk or light cream (latter is my preference), to taste (usually not more than a few tablespoonsful)
  • sour cream or Greek yogurt for topping (optional)
  • croutons for topping (optional)

Process

  1. In the bottom of a soup kettle, sauté: carrot, celery and onion – for about 2 minutes, salting lightly. Add a dash of pepper too, if you like.
  2. Add split peas, parsley, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, broth (or water, if using that – or a combo of broth and water), and the “dash” of Worcestershire sauce.
  3. Bring liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer mixture (covered) until the peas are tender.
  4. About 30 minutes before the peas are expected to become tender, heat up the ham a bit, to avoid adding cold meat to the soup mix. (I stir-fried mine in a minimal amount of oil, to give it a bit of added flavor.)
  5. When the peas are tender, remove the bay leaves from the soup kettle.
  6. Add a small portion of the ham, reserving the largest portion to add to the kettle after the mixture has been puréed.
  7. With an immersion blender (or food processor or blender), purée the soup mixture to your desired texture (I like mine a little lumpy).
  8. Stir in the reserved portion of chopped ham.
  9. Add light cream (or milk, if you prefer – or leave it without dairy, if you like it that way) and heat for a couple minutes more.
  10. Adjust seasonings (more salt? pepper?).
  11. Serve with a dab of sour cream or Greek yogurt, topped with your favorite croutons (both of which are optional).

And here is where I offer my apology: given its “witchy” energies, shouldn’t I have posted this a couple of days ago, on Valentine’s Day? Well, I’m sending this out with Love anyway – may all of you always receive it in abundance!

"Magic Happens," Artist Trading Card by MariLyn

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