Remnants of Christmas: Split Pea Soup

One of my favorite things about holidays are the leftover carcasses. Because I love soup and nothing makes a better soup base than leftover roast meat. This isn’t how we’re taught to think about leftovers: in the US we depend on supermarkets and individually packaged ingredients. Ubiquitous expiration dates teach us to fear any hint of spoilage. Cookbooks and grocery ads assume we think of both cooking and shopping in terms of individual meals.

But soup, real soup, is the natural way of cooking all over the world and throughout history. If you have time to let something simmer, you simply start up a batch of stock with the leftover bits of meat and add whatever vegetables you have on hand here and there until you have something hearty and delectable.

Split Pea Soup

It’s the most natural and practical kind of recycling, not to mention delicious. Think of this as an excuse to buy more fresh vegetables and without ending up with a fridge full of spoiled produce: even wilted vegetables can come alive in a good soup. (Use common sense, of course, I’m not advocating eating anything moldy)

Of course, the most successful soups will, like all great food, have a pleasing balance of flavors and textures and colors. But even a drab mushy mess can be completely satisfying on a cold day if it tastes good. This particular recipe is not necessarily the most attractive dish I can think of, but the creamy texture and richness of the ham flavor makes up for any deficiencies in hue:

Split Pea Soup

So here’s the recipe – ironically I’m starting this cooking blog with a recipe I’ve never made: this is one of my mother’s specialties, so I had to have her write it out from memory to include it here. I prefer recipes with more details, but with a dish as simple as this if you start with the right ingredients it’s going to taste good no matter what. And, as the nursery rhyme says:

Some like it hot
Some like it cold
Some like it in the pot, nine days old

I like it cooked in the crock pot, thick as mashed potatoes with flecks of ham and carrot throughout. I could never reconcile myself to the watery version they served in our school cafeteria: it seemed to have washed away most of the smokyness of the ham as well as the heartiness of the peas.

Green Split Pea Soup

  • ham bone, with broth if possible
  • 1-2 lb. package green peas
  • onion, if desired
  • 2-3 medium carrots
  • 1-2 stalks of celery
  • water to fill crock pot
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Spread out peas on the table or in a wide bowl and pick through to make sure there are no lumps of dirt or other undesirables in the mix.
  2. Place ham bone in the crock pot with any leftover ham broth, pour in peas and add water to fill, along with chopped onion, if desired.
  3. Turn on crock pot and leave to cook until peas are soft – overnight is good, but you can also usually start this in the morning and come home to a mostly cooked meal.
  4. Before serving, chop or shred carrots and slice celery, then stir in and cook until those vegetables are done. This should take 20-30 minutes at the most. Adjust seasoning before serving, though you probably won’t need salt because the ham usually provides that flavor.
Assembling the Pot Adding Water
Split Pea Soup Split Pea Soup
First Cooking Stage Fresh Veggies
Split Pea Soup Vegetables for Soup
Veggies Added Finished Soup
Split Pea Soup Split Pea Soup

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