Eric Akis: Two pea soups, in honour of Mom

My mother died seven years ago. I think about her often, but more so in October, the month she died.

She was living in northwestern Ontario and loved this time of year. The crisp air, falling leaves and dropping temperatures signalled she could return to making the comfort foods she loved.

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One of those creations was a good pot of soup, and in her honour last week I decided to simmer one up. I chose pea soup. This hearty creation is a metaphor for who she was.

My Montreal-born, French-Canadian mom was the 17th child of 19 brought into this world by her parents. With her family impoverished, she was sent to a convent at the age of two and raised by nuns in an atmosphere she once told me was like a live-in school with God watching over you. Her mother died when she was only eight years old.

Not surprisingly, she quickly learned how to live independently and frugally. The nuns also instilled the importance of caring more about others than yourself. Even in her later years, my mom lived a pretty simple life, not being one for fancy things.

Pea soup certainly fits that profile; it’s not exactly truffled consommé baked with a puff pastry dome. And it’s certainly a budget-friendly soup with the bag of dried peas required to make it costing under a toonie.

Pea soup is a welcoming, heartwarming soup; how others and I felt after being around my mother. She was quick-witted, always had a joke, and ready to flash a smile that made you feel good inside.

Pea soup is also sustaining and sturdy, which definitely aligns with my mother’s famously stubborn “I-can-do-it-myself” attitude.

Pea soup is also a symbol of her French-Canadian heritage; a preferred soup simmered up in many Quebec homes for eons. In fact, Quebecers are so connected to the soup they have a nickname to prove it.

According to numerous sources, during the First World War, the French-Canadian regiments were under the orders of Gen. Sir Arthur William Currie. Currie came up with the idea to feed his troops pea soup, believing it was the most consistent food and that it the would improve the soldiers’ performance on the battlefield.

English soldiers found this to be quite a peculiar and funny thing, and starting calling the French-Canadian soldiers, “Pea Soup,” or “Pea Soupers.”

Some see this as a derogatory term, but my mother never seemed to mind when my late father would sometimes jokingly call her that when they had playful spats. She seemed to see it more of a badge of honour. I’m proud of who I am and where I came from and, by the way, I love pea soup.

If you do too, today I offer two recipes. One is cooked on the stovetop and uses yellow split peas. The other is a vegetarian, green pea soup cooked in a slow cooker.

Although not necessary, as dried peas are split and don’t need to be soaked before using, I still prefer to do so. I find it gives the peas a fresher, cleaner taste once cooked.

Either of today’s soups would make a nice meal served with hot biscuits, which I also provide a recipe for.

Both of today’s soups also freeze well. After making and enjoying some, cool the rest to room temperature, ladle into freezer containers, label, date and freeze for up to three months.

eakis@timescolonist.com

 

Eric Akis is the author of the hardcover book Everyone Can Cook Everything. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

 

Recipes

 

Yellow Spilt Pea Soup with Back Bacon and Herbs

Hearty pea soup flavoured with four types of herbs and a Canadian accent, back bacon.

 

Preparation time:

20 minutes, plus soaking time

Cooking time: 55 to 65 minutes

Makes: About 8 cups

 

1 1/4 cups yellow split peas

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 medium carrot, finely diced

1 large celery rib, finely diced

7 1/2 cups chicken stock, plus more if needed

150 grams back bacon, cut in tiny cubes

1/2 tsp ground sage

1/2 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp dried thyme

1/4 tsp dried marjoram

2 bay leaves

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

• salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Rinse the peas well in cold water then drain well and place in a medium bowl. Cover with five cups of cold water and soak at room temperature for eight hours, or overnight.

When ready to make the soup, drain the peas well. Heat the oil in a soup pot set over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook until softened, about five minutes.

Add the peas, stock, bacon, sage, paprika, thyme, marjoram, bay leaves and cayenne. Bring to a gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Gently simmer 50 to 60 minutes, or until peas are very tender and the soup has thickened. Skim any foam rising to the surface of the soup as it cooks. When done, thin the soup with a little more stock if it has reduced too much and become overly thickened.

Taste the soup now and season with pepper and, if needed, salt.

Eric’s options: Instead of back bacon, use an equal amount of cubed ham in the soup.

 

Slow Cooker Vegetarian Green

Pea Soup

This meatless, no-sauté soup is simmered in a slow cooker. When the peas are tender, the soup is puréed, creating a smooth texture.

Preparation time:

15 minutes, plus overnight soaking time

Cooking time: 6-8 hours

Makes: About 7 to 8 cups

 

1 3Ú4 cups green split peas

6 1Ú2 cups vegetable stock

2 ribs of celery, finely diced

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 medium carrot, finely diced

2 bay leaves

1Ú2 tsp ground sage

1Ú2 tsp dried thyme

1Ú2 tsp dried marjoram

1Ú8 tsp cayenne pepper

• salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 Tbsp chopped freshly parsley

Rinse the peas well in cold water then drain and place in a medium bowl. Cover with 5 cups of cold water and soak at room temperature for eight hours, or overnight.

Drain the peas well and place them in your slow cooker. Mix in remaining ingredients, except parsley, salt and pepper. Cover and cook on the low setting for six to eight hours, or until the peas are very tender.

Add parsley to the soup. Use a hand (immersion) blender to purée the soup, right in the pot, until smooth. Taste the soup, and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Eric’s options: If you’d prefer the soup to be not smooth, don’t purée it.

Canadian Cheddar Wedge Biscuits

These moist, yet light, cheese and green-onion strewn biscuits are simply cut into wedges, no biscuit cutter required.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Makes: 12 wedges

 

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes

1 cup grated old cheddar cheese

2 green onions, thinly sliced

1 1/4 cups buttermilk mixed with 1 large, beaten egg

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl, or stand-mixer bowl. Set in the butter. With your fingers, two forks, pastry cutter, or your stand mixer paddle attachment, work the butter into the flour mixture until thoroughly distributed. Mix in the cheese and green onion.

Gently mix in the buttermilk/egg mixture until a loose, fairly wet dough forms, then turn it onto a floured surface. With floured hands, shape the dough into a ball, and then flatten it into a 1 1/2-inch thick disk. Cut dough in half with a floured knife, and cut each half into six wedges and place on a baking sheet.

Bake in middle of oven 20 minutes, until puffed and light golden.

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