Pea soup

This article is about the soup made from peas. For the thick fog or smog, see Pea soup fog.
Pea soup

Finnish pea soup and pancakes served by Finnish Defence Forces
Alternative names Split pea soup
Type Soup
Main ingredients Dried peas (split pea)
Cookbook: Pea soup  Media: Pea soup

Pea soup or split pea soup is soup made typically from dried peas, such as the split pea. It is, with variations, a part of the cuisine of many cultures. It is most often greyish-green or yellow in color depending on the regional variety of peas used; all are cultivars of Pisum sativum.

Pea soup has been eaten since antiquity; it is mentioned in Aristophanes' The Birds, and according to one source "the Greeks and Romans were cultivating this legume about 500 to 400 BC. During that era, vendors in the streets of Athens were selling hot pea soup."[1]

Eating fresh "garden" peas before they were matured was a luxurious innovation of the Early Modern period:[2] by contrast with the coarse, traditional peasant fare of pease pottage, Potage Saint-Germain, made of fresh peas[3] and other fresh greens braised in light stock and pureed, was an innovation sufficiently refined that it could be served to Louis XIV of France, for whose court at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye it was named, ca 1660-80.[4]

Around the world


See Pie floater

Britain and Ireland

Yellow split pea soup

A well-known nursery rhyme which first appeared in 1765 speaks of

Pease porridge hot,
Pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old.

"Pease" is the Middle English singular and plural form of the word "pea"—indeed, "pea" began as a back-formation. Pease pudding was a high-protein low-cost staple of the diet and, made from easily stored dried peas, was an ideal form of food for sailors, particularly boiled in accompaniment with salt pork[5] which is the origin of pea (and ham) soup. Although pease was replaced as a staple by potatoes during the nineteenth century, the food still remains popular in the national diet in the form of "mushy peas" commonly sold as the typical accompaniment to fish and chips, as well as with meat pies.

In 19th-century English literature, pea soup is referred to as a simple food and eating it as a sign of poverty. In the Thackeray short story "A Little Dinner at Timmins's", when a character asks his wife "Why don't you ask some of our old friends? Old Mrs. Portman has asked us twenty times, I am sure, within the last two years," she replies, with "a look of ineffable scorn," that when "the last time we went there, there was pea-soup for dinner!" In Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Tess remarks that "we have several proofs that we are d'Urbervilles... we have a very old silver spoon, round in the bowl like a little ladle, and marked with the same castle. But it is so worn that mother uses it to stir the pea-soup."

A soup of this sort made with yellow split-peas is called a London particular after the thick yellow smogs for which London was famous until the Clean Air Act.[6]


Soupe aux pois (jaunes) (yellow pea soup) is a traditional dish in Canadian cuisine. This split pea soup is very popular nationwide, but originated in Québécois cuisine. One source[7] says "The most authentic version of Quebec's soupe aux pois use whole yellow peas, with salt pork, and herbs for flavour. After cooking, the pork is usually chopped and returned to the soup, or sometimes removed to slice thinly and served separately... Newfoundland Pea Soup is very similar, but usually includes more vegetables such as diced turnips and carrots, and is often topped with small dumplings called dough boys or doughballs."

A novel about nineteenth-century Canadian farmers by Louis Hémon, entitled Maria Chapdelaine, depicts pea soup as common farmhouse fare:

Already the pea-soup smoked in the plates. The five men set themselves at table without haste, as if sensation were somewhat dulled by the heavy work...
"...Most of you farmers, know how it is too. All the morning you have worked hard, and go to your house for dinner and a little rest. Then, before you are well seated at table, a child is yelling:—'The cows are over the fence;' or 'The sheep are in the crop,' and everyone jumps up and runs... And when you have managed to drive the cows or the sheep into their paddock and put up the rails, you get back to the house nicely 'rested' to find the pea-soup cold and full of flies, the pork under the table gnawed by dogs and cats, and you eat what you can lay your hands on, watching for the next trick the wretched animals are getting ready to play on you."

In Newfoundland, split peas are cooked in a bag as part of a Jiggs dinner, which is known as pease pudding.

Outside Francophone areas, pea soup is sometimes served with johnny cake. This is reflected in an old saying: "pea soup and johnny cake makes a Frenchman's belly ache ."


In Germany, instant pea soup was already manufactured in 1889

Pea soup is a common dish throughout Germany. It often contains meat such as bacon, sausage or Kassler (cured and smoked pork) depending on regional preferences. Very often, several Würste (Wurst meaning sausage) will accompany a serving of pea soup as well as some dark bread. Ready-made soup in cans is sometimes used to prepare the dish.

One of the very first instant products was a pea soup product, which mainly consisted of pea meal and beef fat ("Erbswurst": pea sausage). It was invented in 1867 by Johann Heinrich Grüneberg, who sold the recipe to the Prussian state. When the Franco-Prussian War broke out, the war ministry, which had previously tested the possibility of feeding soldiers solely on instant pea soup and bread, built a large manufacturing plant and produced between 4,000 and 5,000 tons of Erbswurst for the army during the war. In 1889, the Knorr instant-food company bought the license. Knorr, which is today a Unilever brand, continues the production of Erbswurst to the present day.


Dutch pea soup served with rye bread and smoked bacon (katenspek)

Erwtensoep, also called "snert", is the Dutch version of pea soup. It is a thick stew of green split peas, different cuts of pork, celeriac or stalk celery, onions, leeks, carrots, and often potato. Slices of rookworst (smoked sausage) are added before serving. The soup, which is traditionally eaten during the winter, is emblematic of Dutch cuisine.

It is customarily served with frisian rye bread (roggebrood) and bacon, cheese or butter. The bacon is usually katenspek, a variety of bacon which has been cooked and then smoked. Pancakes are sometimes served with pea soup; this dish is called snert met struif, struif referring to the pancakes.

So called 'koek en zopie' outlets, small food and drinks stalls which spring up only during winters along frozen canals, ponds and lakes in the Netherlands and cater to ice skaters, usually serve "snert" as a savoury snack.

In Suriname, a former Dutch colony, Dutch-style pea soup is eaten as a street food.

Nordic countries

In Sweden and Denmark, pea soup is sold in plastic tubes for environmental as well as weight reasons.

As Finland was until 1809 part of the Swedish Realm, Sweden and Finland share many cultural traditions, including that of the pea soup (Swedish ärtsoppa; Finnish hernekeitto ; Norwegian ertesuppe; Danish gule ærter). In Sweden and Finland it is traditional to eat pea soup on Thursdays, served with pork and mustard, and pancakes for dessert, in Sweden sometimes accompanied by Swedish punsch as beverage. In Finland the soup is made of green peas, in Sweden and Denmark yellow peas are used. The tradition of eating pea soup and pancakes on Thursdays is said to originate in the pre-Reformation era, as preparation for fasting on Friday.

Scandinavian pea soup is normally cooked with pork – although the meat may sometimes be served on the side – and a typical recipe would also include onions and herbs like thyme and marjoram. It is usually eaten with some mustard, often accompanied by crisp bread and often with the sweet liquor punsch (served hot). Mustard is an important part of the dish, but the soup is served without it so that diners can stir it in to taste. The soup is then normally followed by pancakes with jam (strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, cloudberry or similar) which are regarded more as part of the meal than as a dessert. In Denmark, pea soup (known as gule ærter) is not served with pancakes and the mustard is scooped up with rye bread on the side. In addition, the dish is sometimes served with medisterpølse, boiled potatoes and pickled beets and often turned into a feast, with copious amounts of beer and snaps on festive occasions.[8]

The tradition of Thursday pea soup is common in restaurants and households, and is an unpretentious but well-liked part of social life. Swedish Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson (1885–1946) had a circle of friends, jokingly referred to as the "peralbinians" (peralbinerna), who for a number of years came to his home every Thursday to eat pea soup, drink hot punsch and play bridge. Pea soup with pancakes is, with few exceptions, served (either for lunch or dinner) every Thursday in the Swedish Armed Forces and the Finnish Defense Forces, a tradition dating back to World War II. In Finland and Sweden it is a popular school food, since it is cheap and easy to prepare. In Denmark, gule ærter is often reserved for specific events, traditions or at larger gatherings and it is believed that the dish has a very long history. It can be dated to 1766 in written sources, but might have originated as early as the Bronze Age, when dried peas and cabbage became popular vegetables for the long winters here.[9][10][11]


In Poland, pea soup is typically associated with military, where it still remains a popular dish. This is because pea soup is nutritious and cheap, and can be easily prepared in large quantities. Military pea soup (grochówka wojskowa) is said to have to be thick enough to put a spoon straight up in it. Though the pea soup is normally prepared in messes, the dish is typically associated with field kitchens. Currently, decommissioned field kitchens are often used during mass events.[12]

United States

In the United States, "pea soup" without qualification usually means a perfectly smooth puree. "Split Pea Soup" is a slightly thinner soup with visible peas, pieces of ham or other pork, and vegetables (most commonly carrots) and is usually made from dried, green split peas.

The dish is perhaps most popular in New England, where it was introduced by French-Canadian millworkers in the 19th century. It was also widely eaten in the colonial period, having been brought to New England as part of the English food tradition of the early settlers.

Many cookbooks contain a recipe or two, and pea soup is especially popular in the Northeast, the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. It does however play a role in the light-hearted tradition of serving green-colored foods on St. Patrick's Day. For example, a 1919 Boston Globe article suggests a suitable menu for "A St. Patrick's Day Dinner" leading off with "Cream of Green Pea Soup (American Style)," and continuing with codfish croquettes with green pea sauce, lettuce salad, pistachio ice cream, and "green decorated cake."[13]

See also


  1. Zel and Reuben Allen. "Peas: History, Uses, Folklore, Growing, Nutrition, Purchasing, Preparation, Recipe: Pease Porridge Hot, Pease Porridge Cold". Vegetarians in Paradise: A Los Angeles Vegetarian Web Magazine. Retrieved February 20, 2007.: "vendors in the streets of [classical] Athens were selling hot pea soup "Like all other soups, it cannot be eaten before noon."
  2. "Cultivated peas were mainly eaten dried in Roman and Medieval times", Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat notes (A History of Food, 2nd ed. 2009:39), giving details of the public introduction of fresh peas in their pods, coming from Genoa, at the court of Louis XIV, in January 1660.
  3. " potage Saint-Germain is a thick purée of fresh peas" (Elizabeth Riely, The Chef's Companion: A Culinary Dictionary 2003); both directions like "Heat 3 cans of pea soup to the boiling point with a cup of heavy cream" (Louis Pullig De Gouy, The Soup Book, 1949) and references to "Saint-Germain, a western suburb of Paris" or "the Count of Saint-Germain" are in error.
  4. Louis moved his seat permanently to Versailles in 1682.
  5. Felicity Goodall, , Lost Plymouth, Hidden Heritage of the Three Towns, 2009
  6. London particular, BBC
  7. Ferguson, Carol and Fraser, Margaret, A Century of Canadian Home Cooking: 1900 through the 90's, Prentice Hall Canada Inc., Scarborough, 1992
  8. Martin Schultz (9 September 2014). "No "Hjorddrengenes"-market without gule ærter". Lokalavisen, Norddjurs (in Danish). Politikens Lokalaviser A/S. Retrieved 17 October 2014.
  9. "Familien Løcke". guleæ (in Danish). Møllerens. Retrieved 17 October 2014.
  10. ""Gule Ærter" - Split-Pea Soup - A Old National and Everyday Dish". Danish Food Culture. Copenhagen Portal. Retrieved 17 October 2014.. Beware: This is not always a solid source.
  11. Boyhus, Else Marie (1996):Grøntsager – en køkkenhistorie, ISBN 87-00-23168-1 (Danish)
  12.,114912,8920098.html?i=32 Volunteers distributing pea soup during XIX. GOOC Finale
  13. "Household Department," Boston Daily Globe, March 16, 1919, p. 76
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