Pea and ham soup

For me, nothing quite conjures up wintery weekend nostalgia, like the smell of Pea and Ham soup.  Back then it seemed to boil away for hours, possibly days.  Boiling a Gammon at the weekend is becoming essential in our household.  For one, the kids wont go back to pre-sliced watery, slimy supermarket stuff for their sandwiches anymore (and I don’t blame them), and two, ham and eggs for dinner!  This weekend I went one step further. Hidden at the back of the cupboard was a box of dried peas with those little dissolvable tablets  (which I think are bicarbonate of soda), that cut the soaking time down to a couple of hours. Hmmm. Kettle on, tablets dissolved. Done

So, Ham simmering in pot, (with a roughly chopped onion, carrot, garlic, some peppercorns and bay leaves), dried peas soaking, it still feels like something is missing.  Ah, bread!  A quick root around the cupboards and I find a sachet of yeast. 150mls warm water in a jug, a teaspoon of sugar, yeast in, stir, and leave somewhere warm, easy.  That’s better; ham simmering in pot, dried peas soaking and yeast activating. Better still its only 9am. All this will be done in time for lunch.

Relax, cartoons with kids, a couple of rounds of toast, one with honey the other peanut butter. Surely that’s not the 4th episode of fireman Sam? A cup of tea delivered, and its time to turn the ham off. It can sit there cooling in its own liquor for an hour while the peas finish soaking.  Kitchen Aid mixer, with the dough hook.  Half a kilo of flour or thereabouts into the mixer, a teaspoon of salt, a splash of olive oil, in with the yeast mixture and set to medium to low mix speed.  Walk away.

Next, kids dressed, teeth cleaned breakfast cleared away.  Lego out, and nostalgia is back. Up there with the smell of salted meat and dried peas boiling away is the distinctive sound of Lego being tipped out or rifled through.  The hushed mutterings of siblings thinking aloud the pieces they’re looking for, followed by the exalted cry of success.   I get carried away with looking for what is, apparently, the most important piece of Lego ever and almost forget the dough. I abandon the Lego and get to the dough in time, onto the bench and shaped gently into a ball, silky smooth and springy to the touch.  The small kitchen is pleasantly warm from the boiled ham so the dough can sit in a bowl, covered on the bench for an hour or so to prove.   I extract the piece of boiled pigs leg from its cooking liquor and discard the detritus. Drain the soaked peas and add them to the ham stock, heat on med-high.  I love the transformation of this simple dish. From some little bullet like pebbles clunking around a pan of salty water, as they cook and break down with just the effort of an occasional stir, they turn to a satisfying swamp like texture and colour off-set with an unctuousness brought about by the slightly fatty ham stock.

Right, the bread has proved and its time to knock it back.  This is my favourite bit of bread making. I do like to give it a final good luck caress, feeling the gas trapped inside the slightly dry, floury surface before giving it a punch, knocking the carbon dioxide out of it.  For just a second, in the privacy of my own kitchen, I feel like Mohammad Ali.  I shape it into a loaf and place it into a slightly warmed loaf tin and leave it once again to do its thing.

I turn the oven on and return to the Lego just in time to console my youngest and remember with a grimace the third piece of nostalgia, kneeling on a small brick, ‘Ow’.  However, what has arisen out of the junkyard of coloured plastic in my absence is an array of futuristic car-come-jets and houses with trees growing on top of them.  Trucks with guns doing battle with a fire engine with legs. Things like these were always worth the pain.

A couple of plasters on the knee (not that there was any blood) seem to do the trick along with helping me finish making the bread. We cut some rosemary from the windowsill and paint this onto the bread with a touch of olive oil and then its in the oven.

I cut a chunk of the ham off leaving enough for school lunches for a few days and flake it through the warm soup, ladle it into our bowls for lunch and put them on the table with the warm bread and soft butter. Success. Well, so I thought. My 7 year old and I start wolfing down the contents of our bowl stopping only momentarily to rip at slices of warm bread.  I’m so pleased with myself that I fail to notice my youngest, puffy eyed still from the kneeling on Lego incident, with a bottom lip hanging out, a scrunched up nose and scowl that could cut through glass staring at her bowl of pea and ham soup as if it was cold over-boiled brussel sprouts left over from last Christmas. “Daddy, that looks horrible, like warm slime”.  I slump slightly in my chair.  Oh well, you cant please everybody.

By Ben Albertson | photo Egg&Spoon