Wish I had the capability to put up a scratch and sniff patch on my blog. Our kitchen smells so good right now and only the two cats circling my feet and licking their chops are here to appreciate it. It’s a soup day, specifically, my favorite pea soup. During the winter months growing up in Nova Scotia a cast iron stock pot simmering on the stove top was a familiar sight. Adopting my grandmother’s habit of keeping ends of roasts or leftover sausages in the freezer to pull out when it’s soup weather, I removed a large ham shank and two leftover hot links from the last barbeque of summer, and added them to the pot.
This is the least “fallish”, for lack of a better word, I’ve ever seen this area for this time of year. There are hints of oranges and reds, but not the usual vivid palette of colors visible when the leaves begin to turn. I’m missing it.
Nova Scotia in the fall is truly dazzling. Weekends after church we would pack into the Buick and head out of the city. Traveling along the back roads through picturesque villages, and the rich farmlands of the valleys, or taking a last trip along the cliffs of the Cabot Trail before the first snow, was, in a word, breathtaking. A large apple basket with metal handles was tucked in the trunk to store leaves gathered in the woods which my grandmother would later use to decorate tabletops or press them between pieces of waxed paper.
Along the hillsides brilliant displays of color were evident as though Jackson Polluck had stood above the trees and poured and drizzled his paints across the treetops. Many of the small towns celebrated the harvest with pumpkin festivals and fairs. Along the way, we would stop for a glass of homemade cider or to buy a fresh apple or pumpkin pie from one of the vendors. For my grandfather, it was always a mason jar with a piece of dripping honeycomb from a local beekeeper’s hive. Funny, how smells can take your mind to a particular moment or time as though you had, for a moment, relived it. The smell of that cinnamon stick dipped in the hot cider, and the sweet taste as I took that first sip are just as clear to me right now as they were when I was five. Some things are just to memorable to be replaced in the creases in your mind.
While enjoying the aromas emanating from my stock pot, my mind traveled back many years and I found myself standing in the kitchen of my southern friend, Marilyn Elene Thibodeaux , answering most often to “Mayel or just El”. El made her home with her husband and two grown sons in Port Charles, the Parish Seat of Calcasieu Parish in southwest Louisiana. El was born to the kitchen, being handed a wooden spoon to play with before she owned a doll. With both her husband and sons shrimpers, when in season, an abundant amount of local seafood passed through her kitchen for her to work her magic on.
Although her well-appointed kitchen was missing little, to my recollection I never saw a recipe lying on her countertop. Drying herbs hung by the window secured with bits of string, and overhead a large wrought iron rack housed her grandmother’s beloved mottled copper pots, cast iron skillets and pans, as well as braids of garlic, and drying red peppers to keep the kitchen safe from harm.
In her cast iron pots, which she would explain was the only, no exception, only way to make cornbread, she would move with lightning speed adding a pinch of this and a palmful of that with practiced hands. All this, while talking non-stop in the lovely way she had of expressing herself gesturing with her arms and hands as she spoke. It was a nice time for me, perched on the little stool watching her cook.
Breakfast was a big meal in their house. The men up and moving early, often it was served before the sun made an appearance for the day. Nothing went to waste. A lesson I learned from my grandmother first, and once again reenforced by El. Pain Perdu, or stale bread, was dipped in egg batter and fried in a skillet in bacon drippings. Once fried, the bread was dusted with powdered sugar or dabbed with butter and smothered in warmed maple syrup. Three large men in the house, this was served as a side with hand stuffed sausage slung by local pig farmers, and eggs still warm from the original carrier. Absolute heaven. Those smells, along with so many others linger in my nostrils from my time in the southern states.
Before long my favorite “smell day”, if you will is coming up. Thanksgiving. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it. People often ask why I go through the whole process and don’t just have it catered, and I always answer because you can’t build the anticipation of sitting down to eat after smelling the bird cooking all day, if it’s resting in a foil container. Just can’t do it.
Anyhow, here’s my soup recipe. As I said, it is a never-fail soup that we eat the first night and then I freeze in freezer bags to be enjoyed later in the month. Smells great!
Split Pea and Ham Soup
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and sliced 1/2″
4 bay leaves
1 large ham shank, cracked
2 hot links, sliced 1″ (can substitute smoked sausage)
2 quarts water
1 quart chicken broth
1 bag split peas, rinsed and sorted
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1/8 tsp. paprika
Yogurt or sour cream for garnish
Heat oil in stockpot over med. heat. Saute onion, garlic, celery, carrots and bay leaves in oil for 5-7 mins. until lightly browned. Add broth, water, seasonings, ham shanks and sausage. Bring to a boil. Skim foam, reduce heat, and simmer partially covered for 2 1/2 hrs. Remove ham with slotted spoon, remove meat and return to pot.
Add peas to pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hr. and 15 mins.or until peas are melty and soup has thickened, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasoning as necessary.
Serve with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.