“Ugh…don’t talk to me about pea soup…every idiot who comes to visit thinks that is the only thing we ever eat…pea soup! I tell you the very words disgust me. There’s so much more to us than that!” My host exclaims, flailing their arms in wild emotion. “Just like they say, ‘oh, you Scandis are all so cold, so without emotion’…what? We are human. We feel things too.”
Lots of locals raised the same concerns when I talked to them about pea soup. It was cliched, basic. So, I didn’t want to write about pea soup when it came to exploring Helsinki food. Also, I wanted to write about pea soup, because it was one of my entry points to the city: brightly pastoral against the white of the bowl, my first tasting occurred on a rainy evening. There was a surprising smokiness to the thick pureed vegetable, a hint of sweetness, a dollop of pungency. What looked simple on the surface unfolded hidden depths.
And I wanted to write about pea soup because it was more than a hackneyed dish. It contained memories and stories for people. Sini told me it reminded them of spending Thursdays with their grandparents. For Arja, it evoked a kitchen warmed by the baking of dark rye bread as an accompaniment. Mari said it remained to her a recollection of school cafeteria days.
Whatever the tale, pea soup comes attached with traditions and cultural identity threads traveling beyond the singular. So, while pea soup does not define the nation of Finland, the dish provides one of the means to get to know the people residing upon this particular place. It’s a meal that can weave together different histories to show the power of food that survives limitations.
BT’s PEA SOUP RECIPE
Serves 6 persons Total Time: 12 hour 30 minutes [Prep Time = 10 hours; Cook Time = 2 hours 30 minutes]
WHAT YOU NEED
500 grams dried whole green peas
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 ½ liters water
300 grams smoked pork shank with bone*
sea salt to taste
WHAT TO DO
- Rinse the peas and soak them in water for at least ten hours, or overnight.
- In a fry pan bring your cooking oil to medium heat. Add your diced onions, cooking them until soft.
- In a large pot add the 2 ½ liters of water, soaked peas, onion, smoked pork shank, and salt.* Bring to a boil and then simmer for one hour. Skim foam and pea husks from surface of water.
- Remove the meat from the pot. Take off the bone, skin, and fat. Shred pork into small pieces.
- Place the shredded meat and shank bone back into the broth. Cook for another hour or until the peas turn mushy. If low on water, add more. If the soup is too liquid, cook with the lid off. Turn off once consistency of pea soup is thick. Discard the bone.
- Serve in bowls with side of mustard. Enjoy with freshly baked bread.
* BT Tip: For a vegan version of this recipe, switch out the smoked pork shank for smoked sea salt to flavor the water.
Is there a dish that for you has become either a stereotype of a culture or has regained its nuanced and complicated story?