Tuesday Dinner: Split Pea with Ham

Split Pea Soup with Ham • Mixed Lettuces with Cherry Tomatoes, Carrots, and Garlicky Carrot Dressing • Levain Rolls • Strawberry Trifle

I went down a personal memory rabbit hole while I was making this soup. My mom made split pea soup all the time when I was growing up, but what I remembered out of the blue was the first time that I ate Campbell’s Split Pea Soup with Ham one weekend in Seaside, Oregon, an old-fashioned resort town. I was there with my then-boyfriend; we met his sister (and her boyfriend) and we all stayed in their grandparents’ 1930s vacation cottage. Dave and I got there first, and it was late when we arrived. There weren’t any restaurants open, so after unpacking the car he warmed up a can of split pea soup. I remember the flimsy pan—the cheap kind that people leave in family cabins—and the tiny stove in a kitchen with dark-green cabinets. We ate the soup out of mugs, listening to the rain on the roof.

I felt like such a grownup that weekend. Dave and I had visited each others’ college apartments, gone camping, and stayed in hotels on road trips, so it wasn’t our first weekend away together. But this time felt different—staying in a family cottage, double-dating with his sister (was she my future sister-in-law?), and eating his family Campbell’s soup. (We were a Chicken Noodle or Vegetarian Vegetable family.)  I was ready to make all his family traditions part of my own. I could imagine annual weekends spent in that cottage, eventually bringing our kids so they could play on the beach and eat salt-water taffy with their cousins. I haven’t thought of that weekend for years, then all of a sudden it comes rushing back to me while I make soup. Food and memory have a powerful connection, even more fun when it’s unpredictable.

I wasn’t channeling Campbell’s when I made today’s soup though; I have to make split pea the way my mom makes it. First, ham and ham hocks to infuse the broth with their salt and smoke and savor, then thyme, my mom’s favorite herb, and bay leaves, plucked from the new plant I got her for Mother’s Day. Lots of onions and celery, just a little bit of garlic. My mom would often add a splash of milk to our soup to cool it down; the herbed cream is an elevated version of that gesture. 

(Also—am I the only one that thinks about Mendel when I’m making split pea soup?)

The salad dressing gets its beautiful color from carrots. Adriana grows Nantes carrots, a particularly sweet variety. When Poppy was little, she called them “the good carrots.” There are cherry tomatoes in the salad too. We’re working our way toward summer whether or not it feels like it!

For dessert, we’ve got strawberry trifle, made from everything I like: squares of sponge cake, vanilla crème anglaise, and sugared strawberries. It’s all layered in jars and topped with whipped cream, and really, is there anything better than that?

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