Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Grand Tour via Soup: English London Particular with 'Penny Buns'

I'm going to embark on a culinary journey driven by soup, well not just soup, but soup and bread to be more precise. A bowl of soup is a gorgeous thing, but add to that a freshly baked portion of bread and life can seem remarkably good. I love soup but somehow get out of the habit of making it. Recently, however, I have been inspired by a number of new blog posts and books on soup so I'm determined to get back in the habit of  making some at least weekly.
As well as searching the internet I'm going to pull cookbooks off the shelf that have long been neglected and attempt to take myself on an international soup tour. I will also be baking up a number of different breads along the way. So what better place to start than my home country, England. I've chosen a pea soup that goes by the name of London Particular but really is no different to any plain 'dried green pea' soup as far as I can tell. The unusual name comes from connections with the earlier fogs/smogs of London which would be described as thick as pea soup. Even today a thick fog may be referred to as a pea souper. Now I'm not pretending England invented pea soup as it is a dish to be found across much of Europe particularly the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark  and  I've written a post on a far more elaborate German version over here
All these soups start with dried green peas and whilst I think you will get a good soup with any variety of dried green split pea I couldn't not buy these lovely looking fellows which are apparently Kabuki peas or marrow fat peas and they are whole not split. They took a while to cook mind, so I may revert to split peas next time.

Soups are very forgiving; know what you like and trust your judgement. A stick blender is useful for making puree soups and whilst it may not be able to produce as silky smooth a puree as made in a liquidiser there will be less washing up.

This was a very basic recipe based on one by Jane Grigson from her book 'English Food' published in the mid 1970's.

Ingredients for approx 4 servings
100g dried green peas soaked overnight in water
1 medium onion chopped
20g butter
1 small carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
approx 1 litre of water or light unsalted stock
a handful of small chunks of cooked ham or
  a few rashers of bacon cut into thick batons
knob of butter to cook ham
chopped parsley or chervil to garnish

  • Rinse the peas that have been soaking overnight
  • In a large saucepan pan gently cook the chopped onion in the butter until softened
  • Add in the soaked and drained peas, chopped carrot and the stock (or water)
  • Simmer the soup until the peas are very soft which can take any where from 90 mins to a little over 2 hours. You may need to add more liquid while the peas are cooking, keep them well covered in stock until they are cooked through. If your dried peas were a little old then expect the longer cooking time.
  • When the peas are soft turn off the heat and  allow to cool a little
  • Blend the soup in the pan with a stick blender (or use a liquidiser).
  • Add more stock if the soup is too thick.
  • Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Bring the soup back up to a simmer.
  • Warm soup bowls.
  • In a small frying pan add the knob of butter and when just sizzling add in the cooked ham chunks or bacon batons and fry until just golden.

Quickly pour the soup into the warm bowls and garnish each bowl with some fried ham/bacon and parsley/chervil.
To serve with my soup I chose to make some 'Penny Buns'
This is just a plain bread roll made with a mix of about 80% white flour and 20% wholemeal flour. The name refers to an old Assize system imposed on bakers to sell bread with a fixed value of grain/flour per loaf. Obviously a penny would have bought you a much larger loaf than my two penny buns above but I had fun working out that these buns which were made with a total of 500g of flour did have 2p of flour in each (based on a 25kg sack price).

Next stop is across the northern border to Scotland with a traditional Cock a Leekie Soup and Scottish Floury Baps. There have been a huge number of battles fought over the ages between England and Scotland and a very long list of these can be found here at  Wikipedia: List of Battles between Scotland and England. You could be forgiven for wondering just how 'united' the United Kingdom is and although battles are now carried out more peacefully by independence referendums I wonder if the next one will also be a No to Scottish Independence.

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