There is something terribly wrong with green split peas these days. Not very long ago – months, not years – making pea soup took about 45 minutes, by which time the peas had collapsed into the stock to give a thick and creamy soup.
Now, no matter how long you cook them, they steadfastly refuse to change more than minimally, and blitzing them with a stick blender results in a thin and gritty soup.
I speculated that the peas had been sprayed with oil after drying, though there’s no visible trace of this, but the buggerdly things just won’t cook – they simply won’t absorb water.
I normally buy them from Sainsbury’s, but yesterday I tried a batch from a supplier I’d never heard of before – getting exactly the same result, even though, this time, I soaked them for 4 hours first (you don’t actually need to soak green split peas, and when you do there’s an inevitable loss of flavour, but as nothing was working, it was worth a try).
I also love pease pudding, which relies on the peas reducing to a very thick purée when cooked in very little water which, currently, simply wouldn’t work.
So, last night, I put 300g of Sainsbury’s green split peas in to soak, where they’ve been for about 14 hours – if I can’t make pea soup with those, I’m screwed.
By the way, pea soup is one thing I excel at, I’ve been making it since I was in short pants.
There’s no secret to making green split pea soup, by the way – weigh the peas, rinse under the cold tap and leave to drain. Sweat off a finely chopped onion in a little butter (plus a diced carrot or two if you like), and when the onions are soft toss in the peas. Add boiling water (no seasoning at this point, though a little dried marjoram is good), stir well, especially if the peas have stuck together in a lump, bring to the boil, reduce to a gentle simmer and forget about it for half an hour. Stir, and see that the peas have started to fall – stir often from that point, or they’ll stick. After 45 minutes to an hour, you should have a thick pea soup which you can then flavour and season as you wish. I use Kallo organic vegetable stock cubes, sea salt and black pepper. Simmer for a few minutes more after adding.
That’s it, it’s arguably the simplest of soups except that, now, the split peas won’t cook. I don’t know whether this is a processing fault, GM crap, or what, but something has gone seriously wrong.
And now I’m off to the kitchen to try again.
Not wasting butter or carrots on this, just my last 3 small onions, diced and sweated in a little oil, the soaked peas have been rinsed and drained.
I could try my pressure cooker, I suppose, but I really shouldn’t have to (or want to – pulses froth way too much in a pressure cooker), and nor can I be the only one having this problem, but I seem to be the only one writing about it.
A search on Google for “green split pea problems” turned up little but ignorance and drivel, but no-one saying “Why won’t the buggerdly things cook?”
Right, the soup’s on. Split peas normally generate a little white froth, this can be skimmed or left, as you like, it makes no overall difference. Split peas soaked overnight, it turns out, produce a vast amount of thick, creamy, green, foam, which really must be skimmed or, once you put on the lid, it’ll just boil over. Like the soaking process, I suspect this foam is taking out a fair amount of flavour. You certainly lose a lot of the oil or butter that’s taken up the flavour of the onions and any other veg you put in with them.
While I’m waiting for the soup to cook, a word about green split peas, which are a species of pea grown specifically for drying, skinning and splitting. Yellow split peas, however, are a form of lentil, and the taste is different. You can certainly make soup with yellow split peas, but it simply won’t taste like green split pea soup.
My mother’s generation treated green and yellow split peas, and red lentils – often putting all three in one pan of soup – as if they were interchangeable; they’re not. And yes, the soup was the colour of mud.
20 minutes in – peas are still like bullets – they should be starting to soften by now.
25 minutes more and still hard…
75 minutes later, same result as usual – some of the substance of the peas has dissolved into the water, the rest remaining hard and insoluble.
I’ve given up on that, and I’m having one last try – half a packet of split peas tipped into a pan of cold water – not rinsed – I’ll skim them when they come to the boil. No sweated off onions or other veggies, no oil or butter, just peas and water. And if that doesn’t work, it’s pointless continuing – I’ll just have to make poncified pea soup using frozen peas and blitzing them with a stick blender when cooked, which isn’t the same thing at all, and will never be truly smooth because of the skins.
OK then – skimmed and left at a gentle, rolling boil until they start to break down.
And no – that didn’t work either.
I did go back to the first batch, tossed in a couple of Kallo organic vegetable stock cubes, salt and pepper, and blitzed it with a stick blender. It’s pea soup, of a sort, but probably not as good as I’d get from a packet of instant stuff, and a universe away from what it’s supposed to be.
But, anyway, I was hungry, so I had a mug. Yes, it was gritty, but it’s also left a deeply unpleasant, bitter aftertaste and, frankly, I feel pretty sick now** – what the hell has been done to these split peas? They’re not even fit for animal feed.
**Yeah, OK, I’ve overdone it too –I’m exhausted – but I didn’t feel sick until I had the soup.
Anyway, there’s no point in wasting another penny on this uneatable crap. I was going to buy some online (almost three times the price of Sainsbury’s), but as I have no reason to assume they’ll be any different, there’s no point.
I wonder if split red lentils have been tampered with in the same way? I’ll have a rest for a few days, and see about making lentil soup.
Finally, there are a few possibilities – one is that the peas are several years older than the BBE date claims. The older pulses get, the harder they are to cook, until they reach a point when you can cook them for as long as you like, and they won’t soften. Another is that peas were somehow damaged or contaminated in storage, in the country in which they were grown, or, and this is my current favourite, given the lack of pea flavour, they’re not green split peas at all, but something that looks the same while being completely inedible.
One last thing. Many years ago, I tried part-cooking split peas, then drying them again, in the hope that they’d make a useful and quick-cooking addition to my backpacking menu – they wouldn’t cook at all when I tested them at home – just like now. So, let’s say an entire crop somehow became contaminated – say with sewage-laden floodwater – a quick boil to sterilise them, then into the dryers, and we’d have the problem I’ve got now.
The batch I tried today just says Packed in the UK – produce of more than one country, so whatever happened, and something sure as hell has, it must be happening world-wide – so why no online fuss?