Does one have to be genetically programmed, or perhaps imbued with ancestral memory, to truly appreciate a bowl of split pea soup? I have been pondering this highly philosophical question recently, for this reason. Many people who grew up eating split pea soup absolutely adore it, as I do. For us, it is a most richly comforting soup to consume on coldly blustering days. And those people tend to come from families who have been consuming the soup for many generations. But friends who have no history with split pea soup just don’t get it. They don’t dislike the soup, but nor do they understand its great attraction. To them it is just a soupy mass of relatively bland overcooked peas. And I must say, I certainly understand their perception. Objectively, there is nothing particularly wham, bam, pow about it. And yet…. It is soooo very good. But I really can’t explain why.
Drinking down the soup is a great pleasure, but so is making it. On one of those aforementioned cold days, there is little better than setting a pot of peas and water on the stove and allowing it to bubble happily for a couple of hours. This version is the fancy, feeling luxurious, top drawer kind of pea soup, simmered with a hambone until the meat falls off the bone and the marrow melts a bit into the liquid. How anyone could fail to swoon at such a soup perplexes me. Though again, I am severely biased. And, thank the stars, Paulo enjoys pea soup just as much as I do. As he eats this most recent batch, he is making happy little growly sounds in his throat.
Split Pea Hambone Soup
2 lbs dried split green peas
1 meaty hambone (or 2 smoked ham hocks)
2 onions, coarsely chopped
5 carrots, ends trimmed
Rinse the peas and put in a large pot. Add the hambone, along with the onions and whole carrots. Fill the pot with water to a depth that is twice that of the peas. Cover and bring to a boil over fairly high heat. Once it reaches a boil, stir, then turn down the heat so that the peas slowly simmer. Simmer for about half an hour.
Stir the peas, adding 1 1/2 tsp salt and several turns of freshly ground black pepper. At this point the peas should be starting to disintegrate. Cover again and continue to simmer, stirring regularly now so that the disintegrating peas don’t stick to the bottom. You likely will need to add a couple of cups of water as the soup continues to cook, as it will thicken rapidly towards the end. You will know the soup is finished when the peas have completely disintegrated beyond recognition. The length of cooking time, however, varies greatly depending on the particular peas used. This most recent time I made the soup, it was done in less than 1 1/2 hours, but other batches have taken longer than 2 1/2 hours. So, you will want to simmer the soup, adding water as needed, until complete disintegration has occurred.
Once the soup is finished, remove the hambone and the carrots and set aside. Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper. Add water, if necessary, to reach your preferred consistency. Once the hambone is cool enough to handle, pull off the ham, coarsely chop it, and return it to the pot. Slice the carrots and return those as well. Consume happily with good bread, or biscuits, or crispy crackers.
A note about rewarming the soup. Upon standing and cooling, it becomes extremely thick. You will need to add water before reheating in order to return it to its original consistency.