My cousin Björn is a salvage diver and has been for all of his adult life. He lives in Varburg, Sweden, where he has a small boat that he takes out into the North Sea. His apartment is laden with trophies that he has been allowed to keep from dives that he has made.
Some years ago, when Björn visited us here in the U.S. with his mother, my first cousin, he brought me some Swedish Punsch, which is traditional for mariners to consume with pea soup on Thursdays. Well, this brought a whole new meaning to pea soup! Fran, who is really not a big fan of alcohol, thought that this punsch was just wonderful. Unfortunately, punsch is just not available in the States, but I did manage to find some in a little shop in Arlanda airport on my last visit to Sweden. Yippee!
So, now it is fall – soup season. Today, Fran and I will be having my pea soup, a recipe which has evolved over 40 years of making this soup. I like to use lots of carrots and celery, and go easy on other spices. We almost always have cornbread with the pea soup. I strongly recommend Fran’s cornbread recipe—it really doesn’t take much longer to make than the boxed cornbread mixes. In Sweden, it is traditional to have Swedish pancakes after the pea soup as a dessert.
To my Swedish relatives: don’t forget that it’s Thursday—are you having pea soup and pancakes today?
Green Split Pea Soup with Ham Hocks
- Peas, one pound bag
- 3-4 medium carrots, finely chopped
- 2-3 ribs of celery, finely chopped
- One large onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- One ham hock
- 5 cups water
- 2 cups chicken stock
Rinse peas in colander, picking out skins and anything else that doesn’t belong there (pebbles, bad peas, etc.)
Put peas in an 8-quart pot with 5 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients to the pot, bring to a boil, then cook over medium low heat for a couple of hours. Be sure to stir occasionally. Remove ham hock and strip any edible meat. Cut the ham into bite-sized pieces before adding it back to the pot. Add more water to gain the desired consistency. Hint: I like doing this to individual servings – not everybody likes the same consistency, and this allows you to store the soup in a smaller container.
Serve with corn bread and warm Swedish Punsch if you’re lucky enough to have a bottle!
I was curious about the Swedish tradition of eating pea soup on Thursdays—not just for seafarers but for the entire Swedish population, so I did a little research. The Swedes have been eating pea soup on Thursdays since the Middle Ages. It turns out that prior to the 1500s Sweden was primarily a Catholic country. The people were required to fast on Fridays—and very strictly. Eating pea soup on Thursdays was a hearty meal and meant to sustain them through all of the next day. Even when the country became Protestant around 1500 and abolished the Catholic fasting rules, the habit of eating pea soup on Thursdays was so entrenched that the Swedes maintained the tradition and it continues to this day. Around 1800, drinking warm punsch with the pea soup became a beloved part of the tradition; and I say “thumbs up” on the punsch! Pea soup, punsch, and pancakes—now that’s a Swedish meal to enjoy. You can keep the lutefisk, thank you very much!
I enjoyed the story below which I found during my research and I am copying it for your reading pleasure. It will give you a sense of just how much the Swedes love their pea soup!
“Swedish Soldiers Secure Missing Pea Soup Dinner”
“The Blekinge county wing, stationed in southern Sweden, recently decided to change their restaurants’ caterer after heavy criticism from soldiers missing the traditional Thursday fare, according to regional newspaper Blekinge Läns Tidning.
“The soldiers disliked the small portions they received, and were displeased when the traditional pea soup was taken off the menu one Thursday too many, replaced with sausage stew and fish dishes.
“Pea soup is traditionally served for Thursday’s dinner, along with pancakes for afters.
“The Swedish Armed Forces have long been soup-enthusiasts, and have even boasted their own line of canned pea soup, known as “Försvarets ärtsoppa” sold in well-stocked Swedish supermarkets.
“Sodexho, the catering firm that had provided the Blekinge Wing’s food for the last four years, have thus lost a contract worth roughly 300 million kronor ($47 million).
“From now on, catering company Scandinavian Facility Management will be in charge of the menu, which is likely to include pea soup and pancakes on Thursdays.”