Green Pea Soup: A New Year’s tradition

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  • Chef Fred Ming cooks pea soup in his kitchen.

    Chef Fred Ming cooks pea soup in his kitchen.
    (Photo by Glenn Tucker)

For many Bermudians, New Year’s Day wouldn’t be the same without a pot of green soup bubbling away on the stove.

“Peas of plenty bring good luck all year round” was what my grandmother always said when she dolled out the green pea soup on New Year’s Day.

“It probably comes from the British,” veteran Bermudian chef Fred Ming told The Royal Gazette shortly before starting to cook green pea soup for his family. “Bermudians traditionally save the ham bone from Christmas dinner and use that in the soup.”

Green pea soup is meant to bring good fortune to those who eat it on New Year’s Day.

In fact, the pea soup tradition could have come from the British, or many other countries around the globe. For example, in Eastern European countries, it is common to eat pea soup on New Year’s Day along with a green leafy vegetable.

It is hoped that the peas will bring wealth in the New Year. Some people theorise that the green leaves represent paper money. In America, people in many southern states eat black-eyed pea soup on New Year’s Day.

There are various legends as to why this is, most of them centring around the Civil War.

In one story, eating black-eyed peas in the south started on December 31, 1862 on the eve of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation which freed American slaves.

Confederates took this time to make raids on slave quarters taking all the food except for black-eyed peas, which they considered cattle feed.

On New Year’s Day, 1863, the newly freed people were unperturbed and made up black-eyed pea soup and celebrated.

Another story blames the Yankees, saying that during the Civil War, they burned food crops in the south, except for cowpeas (vigna unguiculata).

Black-eyed peas are a subspecies of cowpeas along with yardlong beans and catyang beans.

The Yankees left the cowpeas because they considered it to be a weed. Starving southerners gathered up the cowpeas and made soup to survive on.

There are other New Year’s Day traditions around the world. In Spain, at midnight on New Year’s Eve, people eat 12 grapes to represent the months of the year.

In Italy, they eat sausages and lentils just after midnight. In Brazil the first meal of the new year is often lentils and rice. Many cultures also eat fish and pork as symbols of future prosperity. In Germany, it is traditional to leave a little bit of food on your plate to represent a full pantry.

There are also some bad luck foods in different cultures. For example, lobster might seem like a prosperous food to eat at the turn of the year, but some people believe that it might bring bad luck because lobsters move backward. Eating chicken or fowl is also frowned on as it represents your good luck flying right out the window.

The good news is that green peas are healthy and full of soluble fibre. If it doesn’t make you rich, at least it will make your bowels regular. If you don’t have a pea soup recipe at home, get a copy of Chef Ming’s book ‘Bermuda Traditions’. It includes recipes for both green pea soup and black eye bean soup.

Black Eye Bean Soup

1 packet of black eye beans

2 whole carrots, peeled and cut into small dice

1 clove garlic chopped

2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into dice

1 teaspoon tomato paste

4 stalks of celery cut into dice

2 onions, peeled and chopped

A few sprigs of thyme

1 hot sausage, diced

1 medium turnip, chopped

2 oz of butter

5 quarts water or chicken stock.

Soak beans in cold water overnight, this helps to facilitate the cooking. Discard any beans that are floating. In a large saucepan, add butter and sweat all of the vegetables except the potatoes for five minutes.

Add beans and stock, and let simmer for 30 minutes. Skim off any scum. Add thyme, tomato puree and garlic. Let cook out for 30 minutes, then add sausage and potatoes.

Let soup cook for a further 20 minutes. Finish cooking and serve hot with cornbread.

Green pea soup

1 whole ham hock or ham bone

3 large carrots, peeled and diced

1 small turnip, peeled and diced

3 potatoes, peeled and diced (keep in water until required)

1 hot sausage (optional), cut into cubes

Half a head of celery, washed and diced

1 gallon of water or chicken stock

1 packet dried green peas

1 oz butter

A few sprigs of fresh thyme

2 whole onions, chopped

4 slices of bread or croutons

1 oz of oil

Seasoning, salt and pepper.

In a thick-bottomed pan, add one ounce of butter and saute onions for one minute. Wash green peas and add to onion, add liquid and ham hocks.

Bring to the boil, let simmer, skim off scum and add thyme. Cook for approximately one hour. Add the rest of the ingredients except the potatoes. let soup simmer for 45 minutes, then add potatoes. Let cook for a further 15 minutes or until potatoes are cooked.

Take ham out. Let cool, then cut into small dice and mix well into the soup. Cut the sliced bread into small cubes and fry in the butter and oil.

When brown, take out of the pan with a perforated spoon and place on absorbing paper. Place soup in soup bowls and sprinkle with a few croutons.

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