Thursday, December 22, 2016

Tule Fog Pea Soup

Growing up in the Sacramento Valley, I remember three seasons. Spring, Summer and Fog.
The fog was omnipresent from December through February, it was a part of what we called winter here in Northern California. It would settle in and stay for days, often weeks at a time. Sometimes it would burn off around noon, other days it would stick around all day and all night. We would drive up to Placerville or Auburn just to get out of it, just to see the sun. They call it "tule fog" here, which rhymes with "unruly dog."

The worst fog I ever experienced was on a nighttime drive back from my Mom's house in Sacramento. It was almost impossible to see, but we hoped that by following the car's lights in front, hoping they were also following another car and so forth, that we could make it back to Davis. We decided for the last bit of our trip to exit the freeway and take the frontage road. Big mistake. There were no cars to follow. It was just us on a pitch black road, surrounded with a trillion droplets of water. While I watched ahead for objects in the road, such as other drivers stupid enough to take the frontage road, my husband rolled down his window and stared at the center lane as he drove. He trusted that I would scream if I saw something up ahead. No worries on that count, I was in scream mode. We got home safely, but our shoulder muscles didn't untense for days.

We just don't get fog like that anymore. I'm not complaining, because it's dangerous and depressing, but I'm sure it has to do with urban sprawl and not enough rain, which is depressing in its own right. But it makes nighttime driving much safer.

We recently took a road trip to San Diego, leaving after work. We got there at 3:00 am, and didn't run into a bit of fog. On the way down, we passed Pea Soup Andersen's in Santa Nella. I was sure my husband was saying it wrong, and I kept calling it Andersen's Pea Soup. We stopped in after a fog-free trip back up to Sacramento, to enjoy some fog-free pea soup. He was right about the name, which I hate, but I'm not going to argue with an official restaurant sign and menu.

We entered through the extremely kitchy gift shop, that must be seen to be believed. There is so much over-the-top ugly stuff to buy, that when one comes across just a regularly ugly item, it's hard not to purchase it, just to prove you didn't buy the super ugly item. I slapped myself and came to my senses and walked out kitch-free. We asked if the pea soup was vegan, and then we happily sat down to order. It came. It was thick and creamy and smooth as a baby's bottom. The color looked like something that came out of a baby's bottom, but such is the reality of pea soup. You don't eat it because of the color.

It made me realize that maybe I was missing out on the whole purpose of split pea soup, that creamy-straight-out-of-a-diaper consistency. I vowed to come home and test out my suspicions, and turn my usual chunky version of split pea soup in a dreamy, creamy if not sort of disgusting-colored bowl of yumminess.

My first bump in the road was that my husband had not purchased split peas by the barrel-full, he had bought whole dried peas. I didn't even know peas grew like that, I thought split came with the territory. But in fact, in pea processing plants around the world, there are machines that split whole peas so we can make soup the color of newborn baby poop. I needed to adjust the time on my Instant Pot. I will be writing a post very soon about my new favorite kitchen appliance of all time, the Instant Pot, but for now back to the pea soup.

I used the recipe from Andersen's Pea Soup, or rather from Pea Soup Andersen's. It's very simple, and it has no meat, nor even a piece of ham bone or any other part of a pig in it. I will forgive the Andersen's for their really tacky gift shop for offering travelers a vegan soup.

Did I fiddle with the recipe a bit? Of course I did! Besides starting with the unsplit peas, which took about 40 minutes in the pressure cooker, I added more celery and carrots and I added some mushrooms for a reason that is no longer apparent. It doesn't need the mushrooms. I also omitted the salt but added a tiny amount of hickory liquid smoke to give it that oinky good richness. Here is the original recipe from the restaurant. Make it creamy, or make it chunky, however you prefer.

Pea Soup Andersen's Pea Soup Recipe

  • 2 cups green split peas
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 1 bay leaf, crumbled into very small pieces
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a big soup pot, boil hard for 20 minutes, then turn heat down until peas are tender, about 50 minutes or so total cook time. After the mixture has cooled, and if you like your soup creamy, process in a blender. Whirl until it looks like it came from a diaper, and you're good to go.