Words & Photography by Hannah Fuellenkemper
Any respectable nation has its own pea soup. Stuff, ideally, in which spoons stand to attention and whole sausages go M.I.A.
In these terms then, the Dutch are a respectable people. Die-hards, too: hell-bent on eating theirs on ice. It’s only natural therefore, that the nation is full of experts. Experts on ice-thickness who gather to hypothesise: will the Elfstedentocht (Eleven cities tour) take place this year?
Because after all, it’s not every year that the ice forms a crust of at least 15 cm thick along the 200km network of lakes across which they hurtle. And so it’s not every year that the Dutch huddle around big cauldrons, bubbling with pea soup, spooning it up with slices of roggebrood (rye bread) thickly layered with katenspek (a cut of cured ham) whilst thousands of skaters toil across Friesland, the most northerly province of The Netherlands.
Once mercury takes a dip, the speculation begins and the cauldrons are readied. The race kicks off within 48 hours of the call being made and must be completed before midnight that same day. There’s soup to be made. Oh, and the Dutch call it ‘Snert’.
For the soup:
300g split peas
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
150g celeriac, roughly chopped (I don’t bother peeling it)
2 sticks celery, chopped (keep the leaves)
2-3 carrots, chopped
Around 150g speck (thick cut, slab bacon), cut up
A ham-hock or bone-in pork chop
1 good glug olive oil
1 litre stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Smoked sausage*, chopped
*A rookworst in Dutch, similar to the Polish Kielbasa
For the side:
Dark rye bread
Thickly cut ham
Bring split peas up to a boil and skim off the froth that accumulates. Once boiling gently, place lid on pot and let simmer, 30-40 minutes, until soft. Drain.
In a large, thick-bottomed pot, brown the bacon and pork chop and then throw in the onion and garlic to brown also. Remove pork chop so as not to overcook.
Throw in the chopped celeriac, celery and carrots as well as some of the celeriac leaves. Stir occasionally but best is when the vegetables stick a little and brown.
Place the drained peas in a tall pot; add the vegetables, meat and stock. Bring to a boil and let simmer. In about an hour, the vegetables will begin to soften and the peas will start to bind the liquid together. You know it’s ready once the soup looks as if it’s been blended.
At the last moment, throw in the smoked sausage, cut into pieces.
Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the remaining celeriac leaves. Serve with rye bread topped with mustard, ham and watercress and be happy you’re not racing!