Pea soup on Thursday has been a tradition in Sweden since the Middle Ages. It stems from the Friday fasting historically observed by the Roman Catholic church as a reminder of Jesus’ suffering and death on Good Friday. Thursdays had a somewhat festive aura and peas were considered a luxury item. Pork was a common meat available in most homes and salted pork became a natural addition to the hearty ärtsoppa (EHRT-soh-puh) that was intended to hold people over on the day of fasting. By the close of the 1700s the aura of luxury had worn off and there are records of prisoners complaining about the recurring pea soup on Thursdays. Many Swedish school kids may feel the same.
In the 1520s the Protestants abolished all fasting ‘rules’ that went along with the Catholic beliefs. Even though there were no longer religious restrictions on what could be eaten when, pea soup on Thursday was so entrenched in the culture the tradition has continued for nearly 500 years. It is still evidenced today in the plastic-cased pea soup tubes that are available in supermarkets year-round.
An interesting complement to the pea soup tradition cropped up in the 1800s when warm punsch started being served along with the soup. The other common part of the traditional Thursday meal is Swedish pancakes with preserves (often strawberry). Although I find this soup to be perfect for fall, it’s year-round fare in Sweden.
So if you are trying to decide what to make for dinner this Thursday, how about making it a Swedish meal? Whole, dried yellow peas are the most authentic but can be difficult to find in the U.S. Split yellow peas could be substituted if need be. I made my soup in the slow cooker but of course it can be cooked on the stove as well. Either way it’s easy to do and it freezes well.
Swedish pea soup (adapted from Vår Kok Bok)
Adjust the salt and bullion cubes (because they are also salty) accordingly depending on what kind of meat you are using. Very salty pork can add plenty of flavor to the soup without needing to add much else.
1 pound (500g) dried, whole yellow peas
6 cups (1 1/2 liters) water
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 pound (500g) fresh or cured pork
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1-2 teaspoons dried thyme
1-2 beef bullion cubes
1 – 2″ piece of fresh ginger, peeled
stone ground mustard and finely sliced leeks to serve
SLOW COOKER DIRECTIONS
1. Rinse the peas well.
2. Place all ingredients in the insert of the slow cooker, starting with the peas and ending with the ginger. Cover and cook on HIGH 6-8 hours until the meat is cooked through and the peas are soft.
3. Serve hot with stone ground mustard and finely sliced leeks. The meat can be broken up and left in the soup or removed and placed in a serving bowl.
STOVE TOP DIRECTIONS
1. Rinse the peas well.
2. Add the peas, water, and salt to a large stock pot. Bring to a boil and remove any skins or scum that rise to the surface.
3. Add the meat, onion, thyme, bullion and ginger. Simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours until the peas are soft. Keep an eye on the meat and remove it before the end of cooking time if need be to keep it from drying out.
4. Serve hot with stone ground mustard and finely sliced leeks. The meat can be broken up and left in the soup or removed and placed in a serving bowl.