Dried peas, like other dried pulses, need to be prepared in a completely different manner. Dried pulses are the seeds of ripe pulses in which the food for the seedling – called germ proteid by men of learning – has developed so far that it contains a number of ingredients that the young pea does not have. Unfortunately we have not advanced sufficiently to know exactly how the change takes place inside the pea, or inside any other pulses such as lentils or beans. For the cook, however, it is enough to know that such changes have taken place, and he does not need a chemist to point this out to him. Experience and common sense reveal that dried peas contain much less juice and liquid than green peas, and that they need to be soaked before use; also, that they are much harder and much more wooden than when they were in the pod. The knowledgeable cook will also have learned, using his sense of taste, that dried peas have a completely different taste and flavour from green peas.
Do not think, therefore, that you will be able to make green-pea soup from dried peas. I know only too well that this is done. The holy saint – I cannot for the moment recall his name, and it’s too much trouble to leave my typewriter in order to go and look it up in Larousse – once made cabbage bredie using partridge. This was on a day of fasting, and there was reason enough for the transformation. But I am bold enough to imagine that the partridge remained a partridge, and my colleagues in the culinary art fully agree – today we still have partridge cabbage bredie, and it’s a first-class dish. I’m only trying to say that you cannot make a green-pea soup from dried peas, even if you call it – coloured as it might be with spinach juice, or one or other green colouring from the chemist – Potage St Germain. It would simply be bad pea soup, for if you want to make soup from dried peas, they need to be prepared in a completely different manner.
Not that I wish to compare the two. No good cook would do that, for he would know that every food has its own characteristics and that it is unfair to compare one dish with another. Such comparison would, in the end, amount to nothing more than a matter of taste. Thus, while I have waxed lyrical about the real Potage St Germain, I would not hesitate to join in the refrain if someone else were to sing the praises of dried-pea soup.
It is, indeed, one of the soups on which the poetic imagination can be given free rein, as is the case with onion soup or the much more aristocratic bortsch of our Russian friends. But to merit such praise, a dried-pea soup needs to be prepared, served and eaten properly.
First, the dried peas themselves. They can be green or yellow. That, again, is purely a matter of taste, but most cooks prefer the yellow kind, whole or split. Inspect them thoroughly. Pick out the bits of dirt from among them. Then put them in cold water and wash them thoroughly, to remove any dust that may still cling to them, at the same time selecting those that have been eaten by weevils and are spongy – to be fed to the chickens. Wash them under the tap, and when they are clean and shiny, put them in a saucepan with enough water to cover them completely. Leave them to soak for a few hours.
Then take some salted bacon, a piece of leftover ham still containing the bone, some celery stalk, sliced onions and leeks (here I am in complete agreement with my ou-tannie), a bunch of herbs (I use bay leaf, sage, thyme and rosemary, but there are of course many other combinations), white pepper and a small teaspoon of brown sugar. No salt, as there is enough in the bacon and ham leftovers to pickle the soup, but if necessary the cook can add a bit of fine salt just before the soup is served.
Brown the sliced onions and the leek in a saucepan, and add a few cups of good chicken or meat soup. Allow it to boil and bubble. Add the other ingredients, along with the soaked peas, and pull them aside so that they can cook slowly – very slowly. Scoop off the foam, but otherwise keep the lid on the saucepan so that the soup will not evaporate. Cook slowly, but well – this is the art of obtaining a good, well-cooked dried-pea soup. When the peas are mushy, pour the soup through a colander, take away the bone, and after the peas have been mashed fine – a purée made of it, to use the fancy term – put the rest back in the saucepan and boil well once more. Some cooks now add a new piece of bacon, or dice the piece used earlier, which is then braised until soft before it is added. But the soup will already be strong and tasty enough without it. Stir well, to ensure that the soup is velvety and even, as in the case of a green-pea soup. Nothing more is required. Serve it with diced bread baked in fat.
‘Ja-nee,’ says my ou-tannie, ‘the Bonades like a klitsel. Say something about the klitsel.’
This is true. The Bonades, spoiled by habits formed in times when the cook still held sway in the kitchen and could make decisions without supervision, always try to gild the lily and perfume the violet. I add this purely for the sake of interest, for, as a connoisseur, I consider it to be unnecessary – even unartistic – to further enrich dried-pea soup that has been properly cooked with good bacon and ham bones. But those who insist on having their soup so strong and tasty that they require nothing further to eat, might like a klitsel.
The cook pours – into the warmed soup tureen in which the pea soup will be served – a cup of cream and the yolks of a few eggs, which are then beaten up, with or without adding a glass of brandy. The boiling-hot pea soup is then poured onto it and served immediately, after being stirred.
My own opinion on the matter, although I know only too well that ou-tannie will regard me as a heretic, is that this is completely unnecessary. Well prepared dried-pea soup can stand unassisted, on its own merits.
16 February 1945