A failure

A couple of nights ago I made ham and pea soup - because David had bought me that lovely damper bread from Woollies. I really wanted to make his favourite pumpkin and ham soup but I didn't have all of the right ingredients, so I thought I would go for peas instead. After all it's a classic isn't it? And we both like peas.

But he didn't like it and I'm not sure I did really. Well it was alright, but there was something about it that wasn't quite right. Alas there were leftovers - shown here in their cold, stored in the fridge state. I suppose it almost looks alright - it would look better heated up and served in a bowl of course and I did find various other versions that had managed to make it look somewhat more tempting (see below), but all in all it was not nice. Gluggy somehow.

What you have above are recipes from, Recipe Tin Eats, Gourmet Traveller and Rick Stein/delicious. And of course there are heaps of recipes out there if you want to have a go yourself. They all look a lot more tempting than mine.

Felicity Cloake runs through most of the variations of course, but I have to say that her version doesn't look much more tempting than my own. I think of the three recipes above, I have to say the Recipe Tin Eats one was the clearest in terms of what you needed and how you cooked it and she managed to make it look good too.

So what did I do wrong, or is it just that neither David nor I like ham and pea soup? I cooked it with a chunk of ham which I then chopped up before puréeing the soup with my stick blender. I added some frozen peas to the dried peas, which I had precooked before adding to the onion base. I used water, and some milk, instead of stock, which most of the recipes seemed to think was the right thing to do and I also added some mint to give it a bit of extra flavour. Some did, and some didn't on that front. I think I also added a bit of carrot, but I didn't have any celery which most seemed to think was de rigour. I notice bay leaves were sometimes used. And it was thickish - perhaps a bit too thick for my taste, but then I can always thin it down. It's meant to be thick, some say that back in the middle ages, it was so thick you could eat it with your fingers.

And here's an aside. Ham and pea soup is called the London Particular in its homeland of England. Well, I say homeland, but this, of course, is a basic peasant soup from anywhere that has peas and pigs.

"At the time of its origins – some sources put them as far back as ancient Greece – the soup was testament to the scarcity of resources in the colder months. With little fresh produce available, the only option was dried legumes and salted meats, in this case split peas and smoked or salt pork." Gourmet Traveller

The peas can be yellow or green by the way. It's called a London Particular after the heavy fogs that enveloped the city from the nineteenth century to the 60s. I remember them well. This photograph is from 1952 and clearly shows how thick they were. I actually remember them being even thicker. You could see nothing further than an arm's length and you would have to rely on your hearing when crossing a road. They were called pea soupers. My high school was on top of a hill in the green belt around London. Above the fogs. But I lived below in the valley and so the school buses that ferried those who came from Hornchurch and Upminster occasionally got to go home early to navigate the fog that one encountered, like a wall, at the bottom of the hill. On one occasion on the way to school the bus was involved in an 11 vehicle pile up. Nobody was hurt - the collisions were at very slow speeds, but a nuisance. We had to sit in the bus for ages whilst we waited for a replacement.

I think it was Dickens himself who coined the phrase the London Particular, which was used in reference to these fogs in Bleak House, and that's how it came to be the name of this thick soup. I dug out my Theodora Fitzgibbon book on London, and there is indeed a recipe - the last one in the book. She adds a dash of Worcestershire sauce to hers, which might be a good thing to do.

You win some, you lose some. I won't say the soup was so awful it was uneatable, but it wasn't a pleasure, even though it's supposed to be the ultimate in comfort food. All those cooks out there seem to think so anyway, from Heston Blumenthal to Coles Magazine. Now David is a fussy eater, and he did say that his mother said he was allergic to pea soup (I think she meant he didn't like it because he's definitely not allergic to peas), but I'm not and I actually like peas, and even split peas. Maybe not ham so much. So maybe it's the ham for me and the peas for David. Don't think I shall be trying it again any time soon anyway.


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