By Gabby Peyton
Hunger is the necessity of invention for many traditional Canadian foods and pea soup is the mother of them all. It’s been part of the Canadian culinary appendices for more than 400 years, starting in Quebec, then spreading to the Maritimes and across the country.
The staple ingredients necessary for pea soup, yellow split peas and pork, were easy to transport and to store so it was as good for sailors as it was for fur traders, and like most dishes from this period, it was easy to carry, cheap to make and calorie-rich.
The history of pea soup across Canada is thick and comforting, like the stick-to-your-ribs elixir itself.
The first bowls of pea soup
Les Habitants, otherwise known as the first French settlers, started to arrive in Canada in the 17th century. And they lend their name to the soup made with yellow split peas, ham hock and vegetables. As the trading routes developed into rudimentary highways, travelers of the roadways that extended through the Quebec region would have seen yellow split pea soup on the menu both in taverns and on the homestead.
Interestingly, some say that pea soup was introduced to New England in the early 19th century by French Canadian mill workers.
Regional varieties of yellow split pea soup
While the canned Habitant pea soup brand has long been on grocery store shelves across the country, there are regional varieties of yellow split pea soup. These days, many cooks have opted to swap out the ham hock for salted pork or roasted ham, though in Quebec, many are adamant that a ham hock must be used in order to have the most authentic flavour.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, many opt to make pea soup after Easter Sunday when a large ham is served for dinner. They use the leftover ham to chop up and add flavour to their soups. Many also serve the yellow split pea soup with large dumplings, which they call doughboys.
Split Pea Soup Recipe
This classic yellow split pea soup has some versatility when it comes to one of the main ingredients: the ham. Some cooks opt for the traditional ham hock, using the meat on the bone to add extra flavour, while others use leftover roasted ham or just the meaty bone leftover from a big dinner.
Split Pea Soup
- 16 oz dried yellow split peas (around 2 1/4 cups/ 560 mL)
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 cup onion peeled and chopped
- 1 cup celery chopped
- 1 cup carrots peeled amd chopped
- 2 cups leftover ham, cubed into 1-inch pieces (or 1 meaty ham bone, or 2 ham hocks)
- 8 cups chicken stock
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 2 Tbsp fresh thyme
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a large Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat; add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has softened and golden, around 15 minutes.
- Add the yellow split peas, bay leaves and thyme. Season with salt and pepper, cooking for about 2 minutes to impart flavours into the peas.
- If using a ham bone, trim off any excess fat.
- Add in the ham and chicken stock, then bring up to a boil. Cover and let simmer and medium-low, stirring occasionally, until the soup has thickened, 1.5 to 2 hours.
- Remove bay leaves. If using ham bone or hock, remove and let cool enough to handle to remove the meat, cut it into bite-sized pieces and put it back into the soup.
- Serve with fresh bread rolls.
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