September 17th, 2011
Earlier this week, I made a gigantic pot of ‘French Green Pea Soup’, from a receipt originally published in Eliza Leslie’s 1840 masterpiece, Directions For Cookery, In Its Various Branches. I found the digitized book on one of my favorite websites, Feeding America: the Historic American Cookbook Project.
This yielded nearly two gallons of soup. I didn’t intend to make quite so much. But I made the mistake of following the quantities as written, and ended up with enough to feed the average mid-19th century household or a small army.
It was an astonishingly easy receipt and required very little adaptation. I started with four bags of frozen green peas — approximately a quart each, or maybe a little more — and two sweet onions.
I threw in generous handfuls of fresh herbs: mint, marjoram, and basil.
Then I covered the peas, onions, and herbs with as much water as the pot would hold. It called for a full gallon, but there wasn’t quite room to put it all in. Makes you wonder about pot sizes in 1840…
Such a large pot of soup took a long time to boil. But once it did, I turned it down and let it simmer uncovered until the peas fell apart. Then I cheated and resorted to my immersion blender. By rights, I should have mashed the peas against the side of the pot. I rather messed up the spinach part by choosing frozen spinach, which behaved more like an additional herb than would have the juice from fresh spinach. And I forgot to strain the soup too — though I have a feeling that step was rendered less necessary by use of the immersion blender. The butter rolled in flour seems like a shortcut to a roux. I usually make vegetable soups without additional thickening, but the butter was a nice addition.
And the result — thoroughly unappetizing in a photograph, but surprisingly delicious; with a pleasant kick, thanks to the cayenne pepper. I think I will try this again, perhaps quartering the ingredients, and sticking closer to the original methods (fresh peas, fresh spinach, no electric blenders, etc.).