My mother, Margaret Somerville Stewart Mathews was born on this day in 1911. That would make this her 99th birthday. She would have loved to have been here for it, especially if there were any kind of party involved. She was a true extrovert. She loved to laugh, dress beautifully, enjoy a cocktail or three, travel far and wide, keep up with a circle of friends that literally dated from first grade at the Trafalgar School for Girls. She was full of fun, told wonderful stories, volunteered for every possible charitable, civic and club activity, took what life gave her and had an uncanny ability to believe that whatever she had was the best. She loved life and would have gone on living indefinitely had cancer not taken her from us at 88 years of age. About the only thing she truly did not like about life was cooking.
|My nephew, Michael, Mom and my son, Alex at her 85th Birthday|
Now this is not to say she didn’t enjoy eating. She and my father had epicurean appetites and spent a great deal of time at better restaurants everywhere. Since we lived in Montreal growing up, there were plenty of opportunities to indulge their mutual passion for fine food and endless martinis. But for Mother, somehow the joys of the table never translated into the Joy of Cooking. So you can imagine her delight when frozen food was introduced and much of her kitchen labor was reduced to slipping boiling bags into hot water or firing up the oven and feeding us all TV dinners at every opportunity.
Her sister, Helen Douglas Stewart Rankin Prescott, on the other hand positively excelled in the kitchen. She attended cooking classes given by the doyenne of French Canadian cooking, one Jeanne Benoit. She was always, almost reverentially, referred to as Madame Benoit. And Aunt Helen absorbed everything Madame Benoit taught her. She was particularly fond of making soup. And I mean soup from scratch. No College Inn here. Stocks were prepared using bones hand selected by Aunt Helen. Hours were spent simmering and reducing and tasting and salting and pureeing. And this was pre-Cuisinart! My mother’s reaction to all this activity was succinct: “Why not just open a can?”
I must admit that my own coming of age in the kitchen came as a kind of an answer to one of my mother’s horrified response to my divorce. “You’ll never eat again!” she protested. I thought, oh yes I will. And I’ve enjoyed cooking ever since. In fact, I enjoy it so much that it now consumes the better part of my day. Between getting Brick Kiln Kitchens LLC up and running and getting Chewing the Fat written and published, I have become a virtual slave to the kitchen my mother worked so hard to avoid. And today, in her honor, I want to share a recipe for that most comforting of meals, a bowl of soup. In this case, Split Pea soup. A rich, deeply satisfying soup where the ingredients literally melt in the pot soaking up all the goodness of the Ham bone, becoming one beautiful shade of green. It’s a delicious way to use the last of a Monte’s HamTM. And in honor of my Mother, it’s incredibly easy to make.
Recipe for Split Pea Soup the Monte’s Ham way
1 large white onion diced, about 2 cups.
2 tbsp. Olive Oil, bacon fat or butter.
2 lbs dried Split Peas
1 Monte’s HamTM bone
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
1 cup pancetta in ¼ inch dice, cooked. (Optional)
Sour Cream (Optional)
In a large stock pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil, bacon fat or butter over medium heat.
Add the onion and cook it stirring until it is softened but not browned.
Add the split peas and the Monte’s HamTM bone. Cover with water until the bone and the peas are submerged.
Cook for two hours over medium low heat, stirring occasionally.
Continue to cook until the ham is falling off the bone, about another half hour. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Remove the ham bone. (The meat around it is exceptional and the cook should enjoy it.)
At this point, you can puree it in batches in the blender if you want a smoother, more refined soup. Or leave it as is, topping either version with a dollop of sour cream and the crispy diced pancetta. Serves 8 as a main course.