Split Pea Soup, a French Canadian Classic

Split yellow peas
My friend Pru, whose grandmother was French Canadian, made pea soup the other day, and that got me thinking about how much I would like to make some, too. I associate pea soup with late February and early March and the coming of Lent; that's when my mother served it.

When I posted this recipe in 2006, it caused a fair amount of discussion (see below). Is real French Canadian pea soup made with yellow or green peas? There is no difference in the taste, and in my opinion, really no difference in which color split pea you choose for your soup. Read more about split peas here.

Split green peas
Pru inadvertently provided a possible answer. A few years ago, she was shopping the yard sale circuit (so much fun!) when she picked up a copy of a cookbook called "French Cooking in the New World" for me (such thoughtful friends I have!).  Written by Frances D. and Peter J. Robotti, the cookbook features French-Canadian and Louisiana-Creole recipes.

The authors use split green peas for their "Canadian French Pea Soup" recipe and white split peas - does that mean yellow? - in a Quebec version. It's obviously a matter of personal preference. Bottom line is: It really doesn't matter. I like green better, but I tried the recipe below with yellow peas and it works jsut fine.

Easy Split Pea Soup
  • 10 cups water
  • 24 ounces dried split peas
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 ham bone, with some meat still on it
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups chopped ham
  • 1/3 cup skim milk
  • salt and black pepper, to taste

Made with yellow peas
Wash the peas and drain. Place all soup ingredients except the (chopped ham, milk, salt and pepper) in a medium stock pot; bring to a slight boil and reduce heat.

Simmer 3-4 hours on very low heat until the peas have completely disintegrated and the soup is smooth; you may want to scoop out some of the peas and place them in a blender for extra smoothness. Remove the bay leaves. Add the milk and season.

Allow the flavors to marry overnight before serving.

My mother served pea soup for lunch with a sandwich, probably ham spread.  In our high school hot lunch program, pea soup was always served with peanut-butter sandwiches on white bread, but I prefer it with egg salad on whole grain. Johnny-cake, or cornbread is a more traditional pairing.

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Jann said…
I sure like this soup...it is one of my favorite. What would winters be like without our soups to warm the hearts and souls........I'll have soup anytime!
Mimi said…
Me, too. Actually, I find that soup is filling and somehow slimming, too.

I usually make a batch every week or so and then freeze it in single-size servings. At any one time, I may have 3-4 different kinds of soup in the freezer.
Tanna said…
I guess soup might be an all time favorite and split pea might be at the top of all soups. At lease on those days there's a jar in the fridge to warm up.
The first photo is a beauty.
christine said…
Soup has been my lunch item of choice ever since Thanksgiving. Your recipe has reminded me that I used to make split pea soup many years ago then it dropped off my radar. Thanks for the reminder.
And, Mimi, that top photo is stunning! You did good on that one girl.
Garrett said…
Beautiful pictures!
Mimi said…
Thank you, that really means a lot to me. Until a year ago, I never owned a camera and so never developed even a modicum of photography skills. I've always worked in the publications business where a real photographer took the pictures.

Digital photography is wonderful.
lynn said…
ooh i'd love to try that! You've made me starving now. About your comment in Paris - i know me too! Recently discovered PDP too and it's just great. I have my own DP site now - why don't you do one?
Mimi said…
I considered it, Lynn — maybe once I make some changes in my schedule.

So many blogs, so little time. Sigh.
Anonymous said…
Hi Mimi,

Nice blog. As a Canadian, I want to point out that the French Canadian split pea soup is made with yellow peas! The split green pea soup is traditional in the Netherlands and everywhere else. But in Quebec --- it is the yellow peas that rule for this soup.

FarmgirlCyn said…
Ah, soup. One of the biggest reasons I like the cold weather! My kids aren't that crazy about split pea soup, but it reminds me of hard times, growing up in a single parent home, with mom doing the best she could with what she had. And split pea soup was a regular on our menu. With a crusty chunk of whole grain bread....Yum, Yum.
ps...how do you get the french mark on your word Pepere? I KNOW how my grandparents taught me to write the word, but my computer deficit brain doesn't know how to do it on the computer!!
Mimi said…
The accent aigue can be made by hitting "Option" and "e" at one time, then quickly hitting "e" — and it may take some practice. You can do this with most accents and the letters they appear over or under.

I love soup on a cold day. I even love the idea of soup on a cold day.
Mimi said…
Hi Anna, thanks for visiting and enlightening us. Many pea soup recipes that are labeled "French Canadian" just call for dried peas, so it's good to have an expert check in on this.

I have made split pea soup with a combination of lentils and green and yellow peas, just to use up what I have on hand. Not bad at all!

The one thing about soup is that you can usually tweak it until you get the flavor you want. That's true for stews, too, except for the time I put in baking soda instead of corn starch.

Long story, best left for another time.
Colette said…
i stumbled across your blog a few months ago and have enjoyed looking at it. coincidentally, my dad grew up in wisconsin and my mom's side has its roots in quebec, and im actually going to mcgill in montreal right now. but what really just caught my eye is that you use the term pepere too- although i know many people from quebec, i have yet to hear the term used!
take care and keep cooking- it keeps me happy in this horrible world of dorm food.
Mimi said…
Thank you, Colette! My PQ-born friend Sylvie tells me that the terms "Memére" and "Pepére" are seldom used.

Jack Kerouac called his mother "Memére," and I have seen the term used in online family histories and in other blogs, like Farm Girl Cyn.

The thought has crossed my mind that maybe this is a custom that survives in French Canadian families in the U.S., but not in Canada. Can anyone out there enlighten me?
Pepper said…
Can't speak for Québec, but have definitely heard these terms in French communities in northern Alberta. As to whether young people still use them - not sure.

Sara Lou of One Whole Clove, which is my favourite Québec food blog, posted a pea soup recipe using green peas earlier this year, though she mentioned it was a break from tradition.
Mimi said…
Thanks for that insight and that link, Pepper. I hope to update my list of favorite blogs and will definitely add Sara Lou to the list.

I prefer to use both green and yellow peas in my soup, for no reason except that I like to do it. I'm not a purist.

My soup certainly isn't genuine French Canadian; it's just darned easy. You throw everything in the pot and then do something else for 3-4 hours.
Anonymous said…
I am french canadian. Split green pea soup is what we always used. As for calling your grandmother or father memere of pepere it is still used. The accent aigue over the first e goes to the right / the second e to the left. Thus way you get the right sound.
Mimi said…
Thank you, Anonymous!

We've always used green, too, or yellow if they are around.
Anonymous said…
Very tasty soup, I like French cuisine and its soups. You always write so many good French cooking recipes. Thank you!
Taz E said…
I Love this recipe my wife fancied some split pea soup with my ham bone after I made a big ham for company. Wow this recipe was just what the cold snowy day in BC ordered it is fantastic. I have saved it to my favorite recipes thank you thank you thank you

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