A few weeks ago I was doing some much needed organising of old papers and stumbled across my very first rejection letter from a publishing house, whom I had sent a cookbook proposal to in 2010. Since my early 20’s I had been collecting and collating my grandmothers recipes, which she gave to me in piles of handwritten index cards and random bits of paper. Some she had written down purely to give to me (I told her I wanted to make a family cookbook) and some were so old, so beaten up, with food stains and folds and even one in her own mother’s handwriting. I started recording them all in and around 2004, in the evenings in my tiny little studio apartment in New Mexico. Eventually they were turned into the most amateur of books, which I printed and bound and gave out to family at a reunion. I told my grandmother that one day the recipes would be published, and in 2010 I randomly set out to do just that.
I didn’t know the first thing about writing a cookbook proposal, not to mention a cookbook really. I had just begun my journey into the professional food world and I was green beyond measure. I bought a ‘how to write a proposal’ book and did my best to follow its instructions, seeking out any publishing house I thought might be relevant. I was not so surprised when no one picked up the book, but held onto the first rejection letter as it felt significant and some sort of small compensation prize for my efforts. I was proud of it and my ballsy (albeit clueless) endeavor.
We are now at a time of year in between Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur. Though not religious, I do still seek comfort in the cultural Jewish traditions I grew up with, namely the food. It is customary during this time of year to eat apples and honey- a symbol for a sweet new year. And though I made an apple and honey cake (recipe to be tweaked still to appear here later), something about it still felt somewhat hollow. I wasn’t receiving the comfort I was seeking from it, nor ‘the thing’ I wanted to pass on to my children.
Today I was flipping through the family cookbook I mentioned earlier, looking for inspiration on what to make to connect to my lineage. And then it hit me, so hard in fact that it drew tears. During this period five years ago my grandfather passed away, a man who’s faith brought him equal parts comfort as it did questions. Well, nestled under a recipe for my grandma’s split pea soup recipe, in my poorly written ‘notes from the editor’ (that was supposed to be a reference to me- see I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing), was a dedication to my grandfather George. Out of the myriad of delicious soups my grandma used to make, this recipe was his favourite.
And though I’ve changed it and adapted it, as I sit here writing this all I can smell is the earthy aroma of the soup, simmering away next to me, bringing me the comfort and connection I had been missing. I think this will be ‘the thing’ I pass on about this time of year, rather than the honey cake. This is the important stuff.
Note: This soup can be made without the ham and still taste delicious. Clearly my grandparents, though practicing Jews, weren’t too bothered with keeping kosher.
Split Pea Soup with Ham Hock
200g split yellow lentils
5 carrots, peeled topped & tailed + 2 more peeled, topped & tailed and sliced
1 white onion, peeled and sliced in half
3 cloves garlic, peeled but kept whole
200g ham hock
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into small chunks
salt and pepper
In a large heavy-bottomed pot add your lentils, whole carrots, onion, garlic and water and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low, cover with a lid and simmer for 1-11/2 hours.
Remove your soup from the heat and blend it (either by stick blender if you have it or tipping it into your stand-up blender). Return to heat and add lemon juice, ham hock, sliced carrots and sweet potato and cook for a further hour or so, or until your broth has thickened, your carrots and sweet potato are soft, and your soup has absorbed some of the salty cured flavour from the ham hock. Season as necessary with salt and pepper or extra lemon if you like and serve. I always eat the carrots and sweet potatoes first 🙂