Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Cream of Green Split Pea Soup

I know it does not look too pretty, but I assure you this soup tastes of...well, the Parisian suburbs.

Many moons ago, I lived in Paris. I had left Auckland to really find my voice, to understand how I felt following the untimely death of my sister. Being at home was too suffocating, and I needed to physically extricate myself from it in order to deal with the loss in my own way. I stayed with a friend and his family - yes, we were just friends; in fact he is going to marry his high school sweetheart in July (awwww...). The time spent in France was amongst the best and worst five months of my teenage years. I had gone with five years of high school French and a very naive outlook of the world. I was welcomed with warm arms into the family and was ushered into French society as though I were part of it. I never once felt like I was being judged for being an English speaker, contrary to every warning I had received before going.

Naturally, the bad times were spent processing my sister's death - confronting it, learning to accept it. In addition to this, as if I needed more to deal with, I struggled with the language, having all but no choice to really speak it every day. I went to bed very early most nights for the first month because I was braindead from the constant concentration required to follow conversations. Of course, this intense focus paid off, for I became and have remained very conversant in the language, even choosing often to read French novels. More importantly, with the language acquisition, I have been able to maintain consistent and meaningful contact with my French friends over the last decade.

I attended high school with my friend whenever I felt like it (my favourite class was philosophy; my least favourite was Spanish because it messed up my French). When he did things with his girlfriend or other friends, I sometimes decided to hang out with his mother instead. In retrospect, she was practically my best friend. We went to art galleries, watched movies, ate out...She really showed me Paris, taught me to appreciate it, as well as some of the lovely countryside South of Paris, such as gorgeous Rambouillet and, much farther South, Toulouse.

Some days I wandered around Paris and Gif-sur-Yvette to my heart's content. Along the winding path behind the many apartment buildings on the way back home I often smelled (I didn't know what it was then, but I know what it is now) the combination of bay leaf and thyme. When I saw the ingredient list for this simple soup, I was hoping to recreate that earthy smell, and I did. I have translated the recipe below, but the only thing the recipe does not disclose is whether to take out the bacon or not after rendering its fat. I took it out; you can choose to leave it in. The recipe makes enough for four healthy servings.

Cream of Green Split Pea Soup
(from Pol Martin's Le Grand Livre de Cuisine)

125g/4 1/4oz bacon
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon basil
1 clove
1 bay leaf
200g/ 1/2lb green split peas
1.2 litres/5 cups hot chicken stock
1 decilitre/1/3 cup hot single cream
salt and pepper

1) In a stock pot, render the fat from the bacon for about two minutes. After doing so, this is when you can decide to leave the bacon in there or take it out.
2) Over a medium flame, add the diced onion, stir, cover the pot, and cook for about two minutes.
3) Add the carrots and spices, stir, cover, and cook for another two mintues.
4) Add the split peas and incorporate the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, partially cover, then simmer on a low flame for about one hour and thirty minutes.
5) Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper according to your preference.
6) Use either an immersion blender or pour the soup into a blender and blitz until smooth.
7) Add the cream and blitz again.

To serve, add croutons or splosh some more cream on the surface - presumably more artfully than me.

My angelheart Eric and I were fortunate to spend some time in Paris earlier this year, so I introduced him to those gorgeous Frenchies who had accepted me into their home and hearts, and who had helped me come to terms with the tragic death of my sister. Today's recipe comes from a French cookery book published in 1987 that my friend's mother gave to me, knowing how much I love to cook; she had not looked at it herself for years because she already knows by heart the recipes she loves (and her endive salad is still one of the best salads I have ever had in my life). I will never forget the generosity and warmth of my French family and friends who, in turn, have lovingly accepted my angelheart Eric into their lives.

[Okay, no more sappy posts for the rest of the week. I promise.]

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You're not sappy, Shaun. It takes a great deal of courage to lay yourself bare like this. I am sorry you lost your sister. Thanks for sharing your story and this simple, but richly comforting soup. It is more beautiful than you know.
I agree with Susan, it take a lot of courage to talk about anything that has given you issues (past with or still ongoing). I haven't had splitpea soup for so long...mmm.

I love that you call Eric Angelheart - that is such high and pure praise :)
I can only second (or third :D) Susan and Kelly-Jane both when it comes to you opening up and the soup.
We actually have something like this in Sweden, accept that it is made with yellow split-peas ( and a bit different spices...I think) AND that I have never felt tempted to try it, not until now. I like your cream-pattern :)
Ummm, do you think it would be OK with sourcream too? Or would that mass up the flavour?
This is a nostalgic and beautiful post. Thank you for sharing good writing and good food; the two don't go together frequently enough.
A beautiful, nostalgic post Shaun, I knew you'd soon find your writing (and cooking) feet again and you have, with aplomb!
p.s. Don't read my latest article, I'm slating Tamasins new book, but only slightly. You'll understand. Oh, but I told you not to read it. Ok, it's up to you!
Susan - You are indeed very kind; thank you for your thoughtful words. The writing process is a funny one. This was not the post I had envisioned before writing it, but it is what it is. Because food evokes memories sometimes deeper than we realize, the posts can only be affected. I love that you have stopped by a few times now, for I love your blog.

Kelly-Jane - It is lovely to see you here again. Thank you, also, for your lovely words, not only regarding the post but also Eric. He really is wonderful and the centre of everything for me. I thought I wasn't going to get sappy again...

Vonsachsen - I actually think the tang of sour cream would add a welcome contrast to the soup, and its texture is certainly compatible. I believe I have read a couple of Swedish recipes for yellow split pea soup...I should try to find them and compare their ingredients and methods to the French one I made - and, of course, there are several variations on that one, too.

Christina - Welcome! Thank you for the lovely comment - really. I'm excited to know that you live in Pasadena. Eric and I used to live there, and Eric still works there. When I went back to the US during April, almost every Friday night was spent in Pasadena - we love Celestino.

Freya, love - Your constant encouragement is very uplifting. Thanks for always being there. How could I not read your post?! Of course your experience is very valid, and I am sure you will only have actual constructive criticism and not just ingorant rantings and ravings. Besides, I have only used one recipe from that book so far, though I am presently re-reading it.
Shaun, I love it! Now don't run for the hills screaming, I'm very happily married but please more, loving sappy. Actually it's not sappy, just open and it's good. Sorry for the loss of your sister, just good that you now have your Angelheart (beautiful description). Soup sounds pretty near perfect too. Amanda
Shaun, I am writing with tears in my eyes, what you have written is so moving. This soup recipe looks perfect, and I look forward to trying it. I'm so sorry to hear of the death of your sister. I have wandered, too, after losing my mom, and I've felt that, immediately following her death, I could not tolerate being in familiar surroundings. As time goes by, my travels have helped me escape, but also, as a woman I met observed, they "let the world fill you up again."
Amanda - I am very surprised at the response to this post because it just kinda...came out. And I wasn't upset at all when writing it; I was being very matter-of-fact, but I suppose it is hard not to respond to someone else's loss, whether or not one has experienced it so intimately. Yes, Eric is a dream, and going away really was good for me. It is funny what food memories can be tapped into, and what other secrets and un-thought-of-thoughts are revealed.

Lisa - How one feels in the aftermath of losing someone is very difficult to describe, so it is often best done so without the flowery language. I didn't mean to make you cry, though, but I am sure it tapped into something very real for you, too. Thank you for passing on what that very wise woman told you. As for the soup, it really is easy and super tasty. I have even made it substituting the basil for cumin, which is even better.
Well it's just great. I've just added you to my links as I keep going through Freya's or Kelly-Jane's to yours. Then I get all confused being of little brain!
What a lovely post. I totally understand the need to extricate oneself just to be able to breathe.

You are very lucky to have such people in your life/lives.

Hi Shaun :)

I'm a regular now, I found you just before your short break, but I knew yours was (is) a blog I want to read!

Amanda - My list of favorites has grown, too. I don't regularly search for blogs, but you see who visits other people's blogs, which raises curiosity...and then you have a new best friend. I love both Freya's and Kelly-Jane's blogs.

Jasmine, dearest - Yes, I count myself very lucky to have an amazing partner, loving parents, and a close circle of supportive and loyal friends. All of this helps one get through life's crap (like finding a good job....ugh!). And now I have blogger friends, like you, that I too hope to meet one day.

Kelly-Jane - I only wish I were more prolific, like the unstoppable and divine Freya. "The move" has really changed thinks, but Eric and I will be in our own space next year, thank goodness...but I am trying to post twice a week (or at least 8 times a month), mostly because I don't want to "lose" what I feel I am learning every time I work with a different recipe or tweak a familiar one.
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