Soupe de Pois Cassés Jaune
This year marks the 350th anniversary of the founding of Sault St. Marie. The Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor reached out to me regarding French Food Ways of the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes. French Canadian cuisine played a significant role in the history and development of Sault Ste. Marie and given my French Canadian heritage and culinary interests, I welcomed the opportunity to write this article on my version of traditional French Canadian Yellow Split Pea Soup.
French Canadian Yellow Split Pea Soup was a staple food and has its Sault Ste. Marie roots established in the voyageur trading routes, which extended from Montreal through the Great Lakes all the way through to the Grande Portage. Peas were a crop easily grown at trading posts such as Sault Ste. Marie and this made restocking of supplies possible. During the fur-trading era, the waterways were the roads and canoes were the means of transport. The Voyageurs (the French word for travellers) made the difficult 12 to 16-week journey to deliver their trading goods. One needs to understand the physical characteristics and demands on these men, and why their diet was so important. Voyageurs were required to be short in stature (approximately 5’, 4”) because the space in the canoe was needed for cargo. They had to be young, strong and healthy to endure the very fast-paced paddling, harsh conditions related to the weather or the terrain and their dawn-to-dusk workday.
The food consumed by the Voyageurs had to be high in calories, and keep well on their long journey. Dried split peas were a favourite because they were easy, light to carry and cheap. The voyageur diet may have seemed rather repetitive, but split peas offered an excellent food source nutritionally high in fibre, folate, and protein. Voyageurs required approximately 5000 calories per day, which is not unlike today’s elite athletes. Therefore, the food they consumed had to provide masses of energy for their 14 hours per day of paddling and cargo hauling during portages. Nutritionally, peas are also very high in amino acids, delivering energy and boosting iron to build muscles. According to a number of research papers, yellow split peas offer more dietary fiber than most major food groups and are a rich source of energizing complex carbohydrates.
The Voyageurs ate the peas as a thick soup mixed with pork (when available). Another useful characteristic of peas was that they did not need to be soaked like most beans or legumes. A mixture was prepared with 9 quarts of split peas and water (typically lake water), and pork. The mixture was simmered throughout the night. In the morning, several biscuits were added to thicken the soup. The biscuit was a hard, dry baked item also known as hardtack made simply from flour and water. The cooked soup mixture was supposedly thick enough to stand a stick in. The pea soup was transported in a cooking pot and at mealtime, it was heated over a fire and typically served with additional biscuit or bannock. It was a hearty meal, although probably very bland with no salt, pepper or other seasonings with only pork to add a bit of flavour.
Pea soup has been a part of the cuisine of many cultures for hundreds of years, and to this day is still very popular worldwide. Typically, it is a savoury soup made from dried peas, such as split yellow peas. The peas are combined with vegetables, herbs, broth or water and usually a ham bone for added flavour, with numerous variations depending on which country you live in. My legume of choice is the yellow split pea and one that I use exclusively in my family recipe. I like the milder flavour of the yellow pea and the golden colour of the finished soup. Green split peas are another option for this soup. The green peas impart a somewhat sweeter flavour to the finished soup. Both are delicious! Split pea soups are also Gluten-free, dairy-free and nutrient dense, making it an ideal meal in one bowl.
As a chef and food blogger who has written a number of articles/posts for the Culinary Historians of Canada in celebration of Canada150 in 2017, I have found that almost all classic recipes were borne out of several common requirements: availability, cost and ease of storage. Pea soup is an excellent example of these characteristics, which have made it a staple all over the world for over two thousand years. Sault Ste. Marie can be proud of its roots, culture and culinary history. This modernized and delicious version of French Canadian Yellow Split Pea Soup will help carry on this rich tradition for another 350 years. Enjoy!
French Canadian Yellow Split Pea Soup
CHEF TALK: This French Canadian Yellow Split Pea Soup is easy to make, and can be quickly put together and simmering away in a Dutch oven or crockpot. It is nutritious, flavourful and inexpensive to make, which in these times of ever-increasing food costs is a most welcome component to any menu plan. It is a soup that I make all year round, particularly when I have a ham bone available. The ham bone is placed into the pot while the soup is simmering away, allowing the little bits of ham still clinging to the bone to add even more flavour to the rich broth.
CHEF TIP: Once the soup is finished cooking, remove several ladles full of the chunkier bits and set this aside (this will be your soup garnish). Puree the remainder of the soup and ladle a portion into large heated soup bowls. Then garnish the soup with the chunky half of the soup. Sprinkle with fresh parsley as well as a drizzle of good olive oil. Place crispy bacon or pancetta on top (as shown in the photograph) and serve hot! This French Canadian Pea Soup is now elevated to special occasion status! Serve the soup with bannock, biscuits or potato scones.
Gluten-Free version: omit the croutons.
Vegetarian version: omit the ham, and substitute vegetable stock or mushroom stock for the chicken stock.
Yield: 6 – 8 servings
- 2 tbsp. butter (or olive oil)
- 1 leek, white and light green part, sliced
- 1 onion, large, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 stalks celery, including leaves, chopped
- ½ small rutabaga, chopped
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried marjoram
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 bay leaf (to be removed before pureeing soup)
- 4 – 6 cups (1 L) chicken broth (or more as required)
- 1 – 2 cups smoked ham, cut into 1/4” dice
- 1 cup dried yellow split peas, rinsed
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- 1 – 2 Tbsp. lemon juice or vinegar
- A drizzle of Olive Oil
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the leek, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, rutabaga, marjoram and bay leaf. Cook for a few minutes over a gentle heat without browning, stirring often until the vegetables are softened (about 6 – 8 minutes).
- Stir in the broth, ham and the yellow split peas.
- Bring to a boil, (skimming if necessary) then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer, stirring from time to time, until the split peas are softened and tender (about one to one and a half hours).
- At this point, add the lemon juice or vinegar. CHEF TIP: It is IMPORTANT to note that when you are cooking peas, beans or other legumes, you should add an acidic ingredient (like vinegar, lemon juice, tomato, wine) only after the peas, beans or legumes have softened. If an acid is added before they are softened, the peas will remain hard, no matter how long you simmer the soup.
- Remove the bay leaf. Remove half of the soup and set aside.
- Puree the other half of the soup with an immersion blender.
- Thin the soup with additional stock if it is too thick.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper. Tweak, if necessary.
- Make sure that the soup is nice and hot. Ladle the pureed soup into warm bowls, and top the pureed soup with the unblended chunkier soup as shown in the photograph. Garnish and Enjoy!
- Finish the soup with a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
- Sprinkle a bit of chopped parsley or snipped chives on top.
- Crisp up slices of thinly sliced pancetta or bacon in the oven and prop up against the chunky soup as shown in the photograph.
- Crispy croutons are also a nice option for topping the soup.
- Serve with fresh crusty bread smothered in butter.
- Green Split Pea Soup: Substitute dried green split peas for the yellow split peas – delicious!
- Add a diced potato to the soup or leftover potatoes to create an even heartier soup.
- For a vegetarian soup, omit the ham and substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth.
Here is your visual step-by-step in photographs how to make French Canadian Yellow Split Pea Soup:
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- Sault Ste. Marie: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sault_Ste._Marie,_Ontario
- The Sault: http://www.saulttourism.com/the-sault/
- Voyageurs’ Food
- History of the Montreal Men
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