Mom makes pea soupMom makes pea soup

I was going to call this post Two People and a Ham but that title had a strangely familiar ring to it and looking back I saw that I had titled another post that way almost exactly a year ago. I guess I missed a career writing headlines for the mainstream press. I also don’t seem to learn from my mistakes, and continue to buy ham in huge quantities Easter after Easter, knowing that the only person in our household who likes it is me. Now, as regular readers of this blog know, we did have guests around the table, but with two five-pound roast chickens and all the other food, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I had to find room in the fridge for most of a nine pound ham after dinner was over. At least I didn’t buy the twelve pound one.

I am not one to lose sleep over leftovers; if I have to throw something out it doesn’t ruin my day. My mother raised me to be frugal in the kitchen but I won’t build an entire meal around a half cup of leftover creamed corn the way she will. And if it’s been in the refrigerator for more than a week, out it goes; I don’t want to make anyone sick. OTOH, I don’t quite follow the guidelines that get put out every once in awhile; I know I keep food in the freezer longer than is recommended and I’m sure in the fridge, too. But even I blanch at throwing away a large chunk of expensive protein; I will try to use it if I can.

I saw that last year I made Spanish Rice with leftover ham, and I know I put some in macaroni and cheese. I already did the mac and cheese thing, so I began looking in my cookbooks for ideas. I have a lot of eggs so will probably make a quiche this weekend, although that doesn’t really use much ham up. I found a slightly different recipe for Split Pea Soup with Ham in my The New Best Recipe 2004 edition, from Cook’s Illustrated. I have been making pea soup all my life and never really followed a recipe, basically just throwing all the ingredients together in a pot and simmering them until they turn into soup, removing the ham bone at some point and shredding the meat. What makes this recipe unusual is that you first make a sort of stock with the ham, bay leaves, and water, and also you caramelize the vegetables. It really gives it a depth of flavor and sets it apart from ordinary split pea soups I have made. The only thing I did wrong was tried to cram too much ham into the recipe, and I even threw some of what I shredded out and didn’t use it; I still thought the final product had a bit too much meat in it. I also liked the balsamic vinegar garnish; I used some of my balsamic glaze so it would float on the top a little better. It gave it a lovely flavor.

Ham and Split Pea Soup, Cook’s Illustrated New Best Recipe, 2004

  • 3 quarts water
  • 1 piece (about 2 1/2 pounds) smoked, bone-in picnic ham (I just used the bone from my Easter ham with a lot of meat on it)
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 pound (2 1/2 cups) split peas, rinsed and picked over
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped medium
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped medium
  • 2 medium celery ribs, chopped medium
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced or put through a press
  • Pinch sugar
  • 3 small red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into medium dice (I used Yukon gold)
  • Ground black pepper
  • Minced red onion (optional)
  • Balsamic vinegar

1. Place ham, bay leaves, and 3 quarts water in large stockpot or Dutch oven. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until meat is tender and pulls away from bone, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove ham meat and bone from pot and set aside. Add split peas and thyme to stock. Bring back to boil, reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, until peas are tender but not dissolved, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, when ham is cool enough to handle, shred meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Discard rind and bone.

2. While split peas are simmering, heat oil in large skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add onions, carrots, and celery and sauté, stirring frequently, until most of liquid evaporates and vegetables begin to brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add butter, garlic, and sugar. Cook vegetables, stirring frequently, until deeply browned, 30 to 35 minutes; set aside.

3. Add sautéed vegetables, potatoes, and shredded ham to pot with split peas. Simmer until potatoes are tender and peas dissolve and thicken soup to consistency of light cream, about 20 minutes more. See Note*. Season with pepper to taste. Ladle soup into bowls, sprinkle with red onion, if using, and serve, passing balsamic vinegar separately.

  • Note: The soup needed more liquid several times during this process; I added both chicken stock and water to keep it at the desired consistency.


That soup looks awesome, especially the balsamic vinegar drizzled on top. Now I’m wishing that I had some leftover Easter ham so I could make this. The grass is always greener, eh?

Pea soup needs no excuses, apologies or justifications!!

We had the classic ham with friends. They gave us some leftovers which disappeared in less than 24 hours. Just eaten very plain, open faced with mustard, on Fanny Farmer’s Sally Lunn bread, which is an Easter thing with me. Wish we’d had some pea soup to go with, especially in this weather.

As you know, I’m not a big lover of pea soup (we always got too much of it in college, and lousy at that) but that does look like worth a try. How did Cal like it?

Mary, you could have made some nice Scotch broth with your lamb bones; I haven’t had that in years.

Gosh, Abby, you reminded me of Sally Lunn bread; I used to make that when I was in college. Your sandwiches sound very tasty.

Hi, Mom! I had no idea you didn’t like pea soup; you used to make it occasionally. No, Calvin didn’t much like this but Billy loved it. The odd thing was that Bill didn’t realize until he read the post that it was pea soup, though. He said when he ate it he thought it was bean soup, which makes no sense considering the color.

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