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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Last Week's Baked Ham, This Week's Soup

I tucked half a ham into the slow cooker on Christmas afternoon to go with some good rolls, lots of fresh vegetables and dip, and cheese and crackers for an afternoon/evening of snacking while we played board games and talked. One of the joys of having brunch as our big Christmas meal is the relaxed eating the rest of the day.

A nice thing about having the ham in the refrigerator has been the ready source of meat for all kinds of meals throughout the holidays along with several tightly wrapped packets of ham for casseroles throughout the coming month.

And then the best part of all: the ham bone along with the reserved juices from the cooker become the heart of at least one batch of soup. This time I went with split pea, starting with a recipe I found years ago on a bag of Jack Rabbit brand split peas. As usual, I added my own changes and then--as you should always do with every batch of soup--I tasted and upgraded with a few additions to fit the final taste. Result? A huge pot of soup that has already made a couple of meals; a few more bags have been fitted into the still full freezer for drop in guests or a quick meal after a chilly afternoon of shoveling. The nice thing is that the bone is essentially free, the bag of peas is still just under a dollar, and I was able to get all the vegetables on sale, so the cost per serving has got to be a fraction of what purchased soup would cost.

Split Pea Soup

16 oz dry split peas
ham bone--from a half ham--with most meat cut off
1 large onion, chopped
2 minced garlic cloves OR about 1 T bottled, chopped garlic
1/2 t dried oregano
2 t mixed herbs (I mix rosemary, thyme, basil, and marjoram in about equal parts in a mortar and pestle)
1/2 to 1 t black pepper
2 large carrots, cubed (about 2 c)
2 or 3 ribs of celery, chopped
1 packet bouillon (optional)
Water and ham juices--see NOTES
Splash of cider or wine vinegar

Rinse peas and combine with other ingredients in a large stew pot, using enough water to cover all ingredients well. Cover and bring to a boil and then simmer for about two hours. Remove the bones, cut off any remaining meat and add to soup. Taste for seasonings and add more liquid if necessary. . Continue simmering until all ingredients are very soft, perhaps another hour or so.
This makes at least a gallon and a half of soup.

NOTE: When you bake your ham, be sure to save all juices for this soup--UNLESS you have used a very sweet glaze for the ham. If that is the case, you will want to use only water to avoid an overly sweet soup.

NOTE: The original recipe called for 3 quarts of water, but I often use a little less for making the soup. This will result in a very thick soup that will take less space in the freezer. After thawing and before reheating, you will be able to thin it with water just like the condensed canned soups.

What to serve with a soup like this? Saltine crackers of course! A nice apple crisp would be a good dessert, or a big bowl of tangerines (about half the cost of clementines right now).

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