Food and mood. I think the two are inextricably linked. I have used food scenes as a way of putting the brakes on the pace of my writing. Eating and cooking implies a pause, a steadying of the narrative pace, a time to take stock – literally in the case of soup. ‘Renaissance’ is set in the autumn and early winter and this is ‘Soup Season’: the leaves are falling, the rain has started and soon the cold will join in. At which point my thoughts turn to soup. To me soups are a winter comfort food – we get our comfort from happy associations or imaginings brought on by the taste or the smell of what we are eating. There will always be a place in my heart for Campbells condensed tomato soup, a fixture of my childhood.
My first thought today though is the simple joy of pea and ham soup. Quite a solid soup, especially if you are not tight with the meat, it really hits the spot with very little effort. Add a stack of buttered toast or crusty bread and you have a great supper or hot snack after a cold winter walk. There are many variations on the theme – I have gone for a slightly upmarket version with the home made chicken stock (making the most of the bird) and a bottle of beer:
Makes about 8 large portions:
- 500g split peas (soaked as directed)
- 3 medium onions
- 3 medium carrots
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 cloves garlic
- Either leftover cooked gammon or uncooked smoked gammon joint – to suit
- 1 pint or more chicken stock
- 1 pint beer
- water to cover gammon if cooking gammon in stock
- black pepper to taste
If using leftover meat then add as small pieces a few minutes before serving to warm through. If cooking the gammon from raw simmer in the soup stock for at least the suggested time (the small formed joint I used said about 1 hour). If need be soak the peas overnight – follow the packet instructions. Start by lightly frying the onions , carrots and garlic until the onions are softened. Add the stock, peas, beer and uncooked meat. Add more water to cover the meat plus pepper and bay leaves. Cover and simmer on a low heat for 1 to 1-1/2 hours until meat is cooked. Remove meat. Continue to simmer until peas are well softened. Use a stick blender to produce a smooth soup. Simmer uncovered to reduce as required – do not increase the heat it will stick and burn, stir regularly. Dice the meat and return to soup for ten minutes to warm through. Serve with bread and possibly a swirl of cream or creme fraiche.