The basics: Split pea soup

I was going to post a pasta recipe today, but the view from my window (grey skies, something between snow and rain) is one that requires soup. This is one of those recipes that I just have to post in case you don’t have a favorite already. Split pea soup is the easiest thing in the universe to cook, and cheap as anything, but so comforting and filling that it always feels like a treat to me.

When I was a kid split pea was my favorite—maybe because it was one of the rare times we ate bacon, which my mom cooked and cooled tantalizingly on the counter, and then crumbled onto each bowl. If you’ve ever lived in the Pacific Northwest you know that there is a certain kind of squelching rain that comes every so often in the winter and lasts for days on end, different from the usual misty stuff and much colder. The exact right thing on those days is to come home and smell the house full of peas and ham and bacon. Sometimes we’d have grilled cheese (rough country bread and good cheese) to dip in it, sometimes toast with butter. I always sang “Pease porridge hot” in my head and thought of “Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old” and how we never, ever let it go that long. Leftovers were always gobbled up quickly. I think Laura says the same thing about bean soup in one of the Little House books, as a matter of fact.

And take it from me, split pea soup actually is still pretty delicious cold.

This is the recipe my mom used when I was a kid, and which I still prefer. She has moved on to a Jacques Pepin recipe with herbes de provence and a bit rougher texture, but this will always be split pea soup to me:

Split Pea Soup
from James Beard

2 cups dried split peas
2 quarts water
1 meaty ham hock
2 cloves garlic, peeled & crushed
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, left whole
2 cloves (stick in onion)
2 stalks celery, cut in half, cross-wise
2 carrots, peeled & cut length-wise
1 bay leaf

Spread out one cup of the split peas at a time on a cookie sheet and pick over for tiny stones or sticks. Rinse with cold water & drain.

* Put all ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer.
* Cook a couple of hours until peas are soft.
* Remove ham hock and cut off meat; set aside.
* Throw away onion with cloves, garlic, celery & bay leaf.
* Puree peas & carrots (or not if you don’t want carrots)
* Return soup to pot, add ham bits, salt & pepper to taste.
* Serve hot with cornbread.

I was low on onions, didn’t have celery and couldn’t find a bay leaf on the day I made this batch. Sure, it would be even better with the right stuff, but it was still delicious. Prepping this soup takes all of five minutes.

I was also using half yellow and half green split peas. (It was gross out and I was not making a trip to the store.) Rereading the recipe just now, I realized I never rinse the peas! Oops.


Despite its healthy appearance, this was a sadly disappointing ham hock. In fact, I have had enough trouble getting ham hocks (Whole Foods has to special order them. Honestly!) that when I found them at the normally-wonderful Savenor’s I bought four, two for the double batch I was making at the ski house, two to freeze for later. I’ve now used three of them and they have been horrible, with virtually no meat. Normally I get about a half cup of ham off the hock at the end, to chop up and put back in; these have given me just a few splinters. So weird!


(Note the tiny halved onions because all I had were little sprouting ones. Leave the onion whole, normally, which makes fishing it out far easier.)


Cooked, with ham hock and most of the carrots removed. Pre-blending. I use my immersion blender right in the pot and it gives me lovely silky soup.


Like so:


By the way, this requires quite a bit of salt and pepper at the end, especially if you don’t have a ton of ham to add back in. Keep tasting and stirring and adjusting. Hmm, it’s been a couple weeks since I made this… Time for another batch soon.

P.S. I joined Formspring, so head on over and ask me a question!

6 thoughts on “The basics: Split pea soup”

  1. Just started following your blog recently; I especially love all the recipes you’ve been posting. I’ve never had pea soup before, but this looks delicious! Marking it down as a recipe to try. 🙂

  2. I have always hated split pea soup, but haven’t had it in years – I will have to give it a shot again with this recipe. And a good hearty ham hock.

  3. Thank you!We gave the library cartons of cookbooks, and among them was my James Beard soup and bread. None of the other recipies I looked at were like the one I used. Your site came up when I added James Beard to the search term.I’ll be coming back to your site, and my pea soup is cooking;)

  4. I’ve been making this one for years! Occasionally will try a new recipe but always come back to this one as the best way to use the remains of the Christmas ham. I’m not one to waste much so I either take out all the veggies and purée them and add back to the soup or use my immersion blender on the whole soup (removing only the bay leaves)except the bay leaves. I usually make a double batch of this one as it goes fast in our house!! Thanks for putting it on a site for all to share.

  5. Thanks for this! The chapter was missing from my book and I was relying on memory. My favourite from my mom making it, as well. I had remembered the carrots, but not the garlic which isn’t usually included in ‘classic split pea’ nor the clove studded onion. Wonderful! Ordering a new James Beard as it is obviously ‘time’.

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