While you can still find fresh spring peas in the produce department, here is a classic spring soup, beloved by everyone from Fanny Farmer to Julia Child…and modern chefs as well.
Elegant and a cheerful green color, it’s a world away from split pea soup, a rustic dish made from dried peas.
Spring pea soup is such a classic that you can find it on menus nationwide, as well as in the recipe collections on the Epicurious, Food & Wine, and Martha Stewart websites (and no doubt, hundreds and hundreds of others).
It can be served hot or chilled, in bowls, cups or for just a taste, in shot glasses. Its bright color brightens up the table.
Pea soup dates to the cultivation of green peas in ancient Greece, as far back as 500 B.C.E. Sources show that street vendors in Athens sold hot pea soup (source).
The Mediterranean was not a dairying region, so creamy pea soup likely emerged in the northern climes of England and France.
This recipe, from chocolatier and home chef John Woodhouse of Woodhouse Chocolate in Napa Valley.
He’s been making the recipe for at least 20 years, in the style of rich soups from 19th century British and French cuisine. (Our Nana, who cooked the classic Continental repertoire, served her spring pea soup as as a first course before the spring leg of lamb* with mint jelly.)
This recipe tastes better when made a day in advance.
Ideally, make the soup the day before serving so the flavors can meld.
It’s easy to use one of the extra mint leaves as a garnish (as shown in photo #1). But people typically don’t eat the mint leaf, and we prefer the flavor contrast of chives. You can use one or all of the following:
1. SAUTÉ the onion in butter In a medium saucepan, until soft and translucent. Add the peas and the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the peas are tender, about 5 minutes.
2. ADD the half and half and mint. Place the mixture in a blender and purée until smooth. Pour through a strainer, pressing any solids that remain to extract every bit of flavor.
3. SEASON with salt and pepper‡. Place the soup in a glass or plastic container (non-reactive) and chill at least 4 hours or overnight. If you have used heavy cream, your soup might need a little thinning to the desired consistency with some milk.
4. GARNISH as desired. Serve hot or chilled.
The original recipes used heavy cream, but many modern cooks, including John Anderson, lighten the recipe with half-and-half or even milk.
Other cooks have made additional substitutions and additions, including:
*In her day—and our childhood—before artificial insemination and imports from the Southern Hemisphere, fresh lamb was only available as nature birthed it, in the spring. Sheep naturally mate in the fall so that lambs are born in the spring, when the weather is mild and grass is plentiful.
†Half and half contains 10.5% to 18% butterfat (the average is 12%). Light cream and sour cream contain 18% to 30% butterfat (average 20%). Light whipping cream (often called simply “whipping cream”) contains 30% to 36% butterfat (average 35%). Heavy cream contains 36% to 38% butterfat. Here’s more about the butterfat content of different dairy products.
‡White pepper is used in fine cuisine to eliminate undesirable specks of black pepper in light dishes, such as mashed potatoes and white sauces. These days cuisine is less formal. Feel free to use the more flavorful black pepper. White pepper is black pepper with the outer skin removed. The skin and berry both contain piperine, the compound that creates the heat. When it is removed, there is less piperine and other flavor compounds, so white pepper is usually milder than black pepper, with less complex flavor.