Old-Fashioned Split Pea Soup with Ham

Ask Chef Phyllis:

Your chili recipe got me thinking about my mom, who was a very good cook. She wrote her recipes on 3×5 cards and placed them in a wooden box that looked very old to me when I was a child. The recipe box sat on the counter next to the stove for many decades.

When my mom passed, relatives came out of the woodwork and gathered at the house. After they left, I discovered that the box had left with them.

I know you can’t help me locate the box, but perhaps you have a split pea soup recipe similar to hers. I know she used bagged split green peas and a big ham bone with a good bit of meat still on it, but I have no idea what seasonings she might have used. It was a touch salty (which I liked) and, for lack of a better description, it had a very light, bitter undercurrent and was a little on the thick side. She’d make so much that she’d have to freeze the leftovers in those quart-size freezer containers—which sometimes found their way into my back-to-school care packages.

I can still smell my mom’s split pea soup cooking in my memory. She can’t make it anymore, but I was hoping if I told you some of the ingredients, you could fill in the rest. Can you help?

—Michael McEachin from Woodland, Georgia

Oh, yes. In memory of your mother, I have an Old-Fashioned Split Pea Soup with a hambone that simmers in the pot until the meat shreds right off the bone. This comfort-food classic is full of flavor, thick and hearty, and freezes well.


¼ cup olive oil, bacon fat, lard, or ham fat
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced small
2 medium onions, diced small
1 rib celery, diced small
1 potato, peeled and diced small
1 16-oz. bag of split peas (I use Eden organic)
3 quarts of water or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon ketchup or tomato paste
1 tablespoon spicy, grainy mustard
1 teaspoon each of dried thyme, celery seeds, and cumin (optional)
1 pinch of fresh nutmeg for that hidden flavor
1 pinch to ½ teaspoon ground cloves (See Tip from the Chef below)
1 tablespoon sea salt, or to taste (ham is salty)
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large bay leaf (to be removed later)
1 leftover hambone from a boiled, smoked, or baked ham—you’ll need about 1 to 1½ pounds of meat if the soup will be the main part of the meal. Alternatively, you may substitute 3 meaty smoked ham hocks totaling about 1½  pounds.

Extra stock or water as needed


1. In a large pot, heat the oil and/or fats and butter on medium. Add carrots, onions, celery, and potato and cook until transparent, about 10 minutes.

2. Rinse the split peas in a colander, making sure you remove any debris before adding them to the pot.

3. Add water or stock. Stir in ketchup or tomato paste, mustard, spices, salt and pepper to taste, and bay leaf. Add the hambone or ham hocks, skin and all. Stir well, cover, and simmer for at least 2 hours—but 3 to 4 hours would be even better. After the first hour, check the liquid level; the split peas will have absorbed much of the cooking liquid. If you like an extra-thick soup, don’t add any extra stock or water. You can also create different textures to enjoy if you puree some of the soup with a potato masher.

4. After testing for thickness, take out the bay leaf, then remove hambone or ham hocks and cool on a platter for about 10 minutes. The meat will easily shred away once you start removing it from the bone. Return all of the meat and any marrow you can extract from the bones back to the pot. Stir well.

This soup is both hardy and creamy, a classic American comfort food rich in fiber, minerals…and memories. Enjoy!

Tip from the Chef: You may be surprised at the inclusion of ground cloves in this recipe, but that’s what makes it so memorable. Picture it—this ham started out as a festive roast, most likely dressed in pineapple rings, with glazed cherries in the center and a honey glaze for its initial serving. Fragrant whole cloves would have been studded into the scored fat, which is also the very thing that gives this soup its earthy flavor…be it ever so subtle.

chefphyllis.transparent signatureAUTHOR’S NOTE

To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:
·chemical-  and hormone-free meat
·wild-caught fish
·pastured-raised, organic eggs
·whole, unrefined grains
·virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
·whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
·pure, clean, spring water
·sea salt
·raw and/or cultured milk and cream products

Photo from iStock/boblin

Phyllis Quinn

Phyllis Quinn is a chef, food writer, and founder of Udderly Cultured, a class that teaches how to make homemade fresh mozzarella, butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, and other cultured products. Private lessons are available. For a reservation, call Phyllis at 970-221-5556 or email her at phyllisquinn2@gmail.com. Rediscover nearly lost cooking methods and get one-of-a-kind recipes in her books The Slow Cook Gourmet and Udderly Cultured: The Art of Milk Fermentation.

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2 thoughts on “Old-Fashioned Split Pea Soup with Ham

  1. Antoinette says:

    Although my husband doesn’t like most veggies in any shape or form, I am going to try this split pea soup. I was surprised to see nutmeg as one of the ingredients but I will add it as I don’t like to omit anything in a recipe or for that matter exchange it for something else. I live on the Northeast coast & this year it’s been a very long winter, so I’m very happy to see this comfort food from you Phyllis. Thanks a bunch.

  2. Phyllis says:

    Hi Antoinette,
    Thank you for your comment and your interest in my recipes. I know a lot of husbands and children do not like vegetables and don’t want to see them. If you use an immersion blender designed for use right in the pot, ALL the vegetables will be creamed into the soup and disappear. A large capacity food processor will also do the job. New slow cooker recipes are coming out soon. Check out the SRP blog often. Thanks, Phyllis

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