Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Pease Porridge

Depending on who you ask, we've been on borrowed time for anywhere from three days to two weeks. Our luck ran out overnight on Saturday: our first frost of the year followed by a 28F freeze the following evening. Earlier in the week in preparation for the coming cold weather, I picked all the basil and made pesto and Ann asked if I would make a pot of split pea soup on Sunday to accompany the chilly weather and a loaf of her delicious bread.

I've never really considered split pea soup and by considered, I mean in an academic nature. [Cue groaning noises from my wife.] Been making it all my adult life, but I never considered from which culinary tradition it has come. I didn't know anything about the history of the dish.

I certainly did have a guess that since we have a nursery rhyme about the dish ("pease porridge hot/pease porridge cold/...") that the dish is very old. And that it is, the rhyme is first recorded in the early 18th century but the dish is mentioned by Aristophanes and that was nearly 2500 years ago. Split pea soup is downright ancient on a human timescale. Further reading leads me to believe that cooked dried peas and pork is common to most of northern Europe; it certainly is extremely common in many militaries and all throughout Scandinavia. That it appears across such a broad swath of the world tells us that this dish is so old that it predates our modern notion of cuisines and international boundaries.

And its antiquity probably explains why we love it so: at this point, love for the soup is probably recorded at some level in our DNA. All joking aside, it is one of the few dishes that I, the ultimate omnivore, came to kicking and screaming. When I was a youngster of about 8 or 9, my mother made for the first time in my reckoning a nasty looking green soup which she assured me was delicious. I've never really balked at foods, but I bet it took her a solid half an hour of cajoling me while she was cooking it to get me to try that damn green stuff. I guess the color put me off. But once I finally nerved up enough to taste it, I was hooked.

[The only other thing that I came to balkily was sushi. At 25 years of age, I had never seen raw fish before. These were the days before you could buy sushi in any town anywhere. Four or five beers it took to get into the raw fish, but after that, I was likewise hooked.]

My split pea soup is always made with green split peas, a ham hock, an onion, a couple of carrots, some garlic, a bay leaf, and some thyme. Except this batch.

Not My Usual Split Pea Soup Mise
I was fresh out of carrots, so I grabbed a sweet potato for color. That's the only reason carrot is in the soup: for contrasting color. And I grabbed a few small pork sausages because I don't have a ham in the fridge and I didn't feel like getting one out of the back and unwrapping it. The secret weapon in my soup is what we call "pork goodness," the juices that congeal in the bottom of the pan after we have roasted our pork belly. I added about a pint of that at the very end. Because it is so salty, I add it at the end instead of salt.

Ann's roasted garlic loaf was incredibly delicious. Alas the photos did not turn out. The short day did not afford enough daylight and the picture quality was awful. Pictures or no, the soup and bread in front of the fire was a great way to temporarily chase away our first taste of winter.

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