Since I was a kid my one of my favorite holiday meals was the split pea soup that my mother would make after the party from the leftover ham bone. It is comfort food, a one dish meal that makes the whole house smell good and to me it tastes like the holidays. My mom’s pea soup recipe is so simple I have messed up by trying to make it more complicated. Don’t do it. Pea soup is farm cooking, it is simple and good, just follow the recipe that my mother learned from her grandmother. If you don’t have a ham bone then you can use ham hocks instead.
Mom’s Split Pea Soup
- 1 Ham Bone most meat but not all removed
- 1 ½ Cup Carrots Roughly Chopped
- 5 Ribs Celery Roughly Chopped
- 3-4 Cups Onion Roughly Chopped
- 1 Large Potato Pealed ¼-½ Inch Chop
- 2 14 oz Bags Split Peas
- 1 Tsp Black Pepper
- 1 Tsp Thyme
- 1 Tsp Sage
- ½ Tsp Ground Cloves
- Salt to Taste
Once you have eaten all the ham that can be easily removed from the bone you are ready to make pea soup. Put the bone into a large heavy bottomed soup pot and cover with water, depending on the size and shape of the bone you will need more or less water. In my pot with this bone I use about 12-14 cups of water. Put the pot on the stove and turn the heat up high to bring to a boil.
While the pot is heating give the veggies a rough chop, all but the carrot is going to cook away so just hack them up and toss them in the pot. I use all the celery stocks including the tender leaves, but do be sure to peal the carrots. The leftover crudité veggies from your holiday party are perfect for soup.
Once the veggies are in the pot pour the dry peas into a container and pick them over looking for bad peas and stones. The yellow peas are not bad; they are just yellow so leave them in to cook. On the package of peas there will be directions to soak/soften the peas, don’t do it. The starch in the peas will be lost and your soup will never thicken, trust me I have tried it and my mother laughed at me when I couldn’t get my soup to thicken.
Pour the dry peas into the boiling pot and turn down the heat so you get a slow/soft boil. Add the spices, except salt. Stir for a while to be sure the heat is right and the peas don't just sink to the bottom and burn. Do not cover the pot you need the steam to evaporate so the soup thickens.
Adjusting the heat is an art especially on an electric range where the perfect setting seems to be half way between the simmer and low. A gas stove with its infinite heat adjustment is a nice thing to have for this recipe. Once you have decided on the right setting leave the pot to boil stirring ever 45 minutes allowing the boiling water to remove all the meat and marrow from the ham bone. After about 2 hours you can pull the bone out and peel off the loosened meat before returning all the meat and bones to the pot. Be careful the bone will be hot.
Now just leave the soup to boil softly stirring about every 30 minutes, be sure when you stir you are scraping the bottom of the pot to keep everything from sticking. The soup should take most of the day, 6 to 8 hours, to thicken.
The longer it cooks and thicker it becomes the better. The peas and veggies will dissolve; the bone will be cleaned of meat and marrow, and your kitchen will smell heavenly. When the soup is almost done start tasting the soup to adjust the seasonings. If your ham had a lot of salt you may not need to add any if it was lightly salted you may need 2 teaspoons or more salt. Trust your palate, increase the other spices accordingly. Remove the large bones and any fat/gristle you see. Serve with crackers, enjoy.