food, history, rural life, and how we connect our cultural past and future
Ultimate Winter Comfort Food: Split Pea and Ham Soup
Split Pea soup is one of my favorite soups. When I was a little girl in the early 1950’s it took almost 18 hours to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco on Highway 101. My mother and stepfather and I made this trip several times a year. Once we would get past Carpentaria and Santa Barbara, farther north along the coast highway we would reach the place where Highway 1 continued skirting the edge of the sea while Highway 101 turned inland. Each time we took that long trip at that point we would stop at Pea Soup Andersen’s in a tiny town settled by Danish immigrants in the early 20th century.
Pea Soup Anderson’s offered an endless bowl of soup – as much as you could eat for one price! And it was the most fabulous split pea soup – green, smooth, rich, and peppery – flecked with tiny shreds of smoky ham.
Eventually, by the early sixties, Andersen’s became so famous they sold the soup in cans and the restaurant grew into a Scandinavian themed hodge-podge of dining rooms and gift shops cluttering the highway from Solvang to Buelton! The charm of the simple truck stop was gone and I no longer stopped there when I made the now much shorter drive to Northern California on the I-5. However in my early twenties I set out to reproduce that soup of my childhood and I think over the years I succeeded.
Dry Split Peas (2 lb.)
Smoked Pork Hock (2) or a nice meaty ham bone
Celery (5 stalks w/ leaves)
Pepper Corn (8-10)
3 or 4 garlic cloves
In a large soup pot put all the ingredients, add water to fill. Bring to boil, skim froth, and put on simmer till all is completely tender. It will probably take two hours or so and if you have the time three is even better. Remove hock or ham bone, cool, remove fat and skin, and chop the meat fine.
I use my immersion blender to create a puree. In the ‘olden’ days I’d let the soup cool down and puree it in batches in my blender. Add the chopped meat back to the soup. This soup can take a lot of fresh black pepper and careful salting. It’s easy for split pea soup to be too bland. Bring the soup to a simmer to serve. It freezes well.
(the black and white image credit: http://www.cityofbuellton.com/history.php )