I remember that my first positive experience with split pea soup was in December 1989. My then boyfriend and I were driving our 1978 VW Bus to Altadena to spend the holidays with his brother. As luck would have it, the grapevine had frozen over that year and the outside temperature was no longer an interesting fact but more a life and death struggle. If anyone has ever owned a vintage (old) VW Bus, you are privy to the fact that the heater is more of a novelty than something to rely on to, oh I don’t know…keep WARM. In addition to the ‘pilot light’ heater, the floorboards where the foot pedals came up from had a very visible hole around the perimeter of each pedal stick, to which you had a clear view of the…road, yes the road. Normally, nothing too alarming in tepid Sacramento, but when driving in below freezing temperatures, your feet actually go numb from the constant onslaught of cold air. At one point, we pulled off the highway and into a gas station to procure plastic bags. My boyfriend then wrapped his socked foot in three layers of plastic bags before he stuffed them back into his shoes.
Finally, out of fear of hypothermia and gut gnawing starvation, we pulled into Pea Soup Andersen’s in Santa Nella. Now mind you, neither one of us was a fan of split pea soup, but we were cold, tired, hungry and low on funds. They had an all you could eat option…but ONLY for split pea soup with toppings. SOLD! We ate buckets of the stuff. I can’t even say if we stayed and ate so long because we were that hungry or we were just putting off getting back into the bus. Either way, I had a new found respect for split pea soup.
We eventually arrived at our destination somewhere around 2:00 in the morning and found a note waiting for us.
“Glad you made it! But, since you are the last ones to arrive, you get to sleep on the sofa bed. Better luck next time. See you in the morning!”
I believe my spine had never recovered from the last time I had slept on that sofa bed. Ironically, we opted to sleep in the bed, back in the bus.
In the 20 plus years that have passed, I have seldom enjoyed a bowl of split pea soup as much as I did on that cold long night. Not sure if it was a distant memory or the chill in the fall air, I decided it was time for a big pot of soup. Here’s my take.
- 3-4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 2 cups of chopped celery (include celery leaves)
- 2 cups of chopped carrots
- 10-14 whole garlic cloves
- 3 pounds of smoked ham hocks
- 3 teaspoons dried French thyme
- 3 cups green split peas
- 16 cups of water
- Salt and Pepper
- ½ cup of chopped fresh parsley.
Melt butter in heavy large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, garlic and carrots. Sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Add pork and thyme; stir 1 minute. Add peas, then water, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Partially cover pot; simmer soup until pork and vegetables are tender and peas are falling apart, stirring often, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Transfer hocks to a bowl.
At this point, some people elect to remove half of the soup contents to puree. However, if you refrain from putting salt in the soup until it has completely cooked, the peas will take in more water and this will allow the peas to break down themselves. I have never pureed this soup and it has always been a perfect mix of pea puree, vegetables and pieces of pork.
To complete, cut pork off bones, dice and return to the soup. Season with salt and pepper. Finish with the fresh parsley.