Citizens, every Thursday, Finns across the country (and many Scandinavians across the other Nordic countries) gather for a ritual of deep meaning – the ceremonial meal of pea soup with ham and pancakes with jam!
As Finland was until 1809 part of the Swedish Realm, Sweden and Finland share many cultural traditions, including that of the pea soup (Swedish ärtsoppa; Finnish hernekeitto ; Norwegian ertesuppe; Danish gule ærter).
In Sweden and Finland it is traditional to eat pea soup on Thursdays, served with pork and mustard, and pancakes for dessert, in Sweden sometimes accompanied by Swedish punsch as beverage.
In Finland the soup is made of green peas, whereas in Sweden and Denmark only yellow peas are used. The tradition of eating pea soup and pancakes on Thursdays is said to originate in the pre-Reformation era, as preparation for fasting on Friday.
Scandinavian pea soup is normally cooked with pork – although the meat may sometimes be served on the side – and a typical recipe would also include onions and herbs like thyme and marjoram. It is usually eaten with some mustard, often accompanied by crisp bread and often with the sweet liquor punsch (served hot).
Mustard is an important part of the dish, but the soup is served without it so that diners can stir it in to taste. The soup is then normally followed by pancakes with jam (strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, cloudberry or similar) which are regarded more as part of the meal than as a dessert.
In Denmark, pea soup (known as gule ærter) is not served with pancakes and the mustard is scooped up with rye bread on the side. In addition, the dish is sometimes served with medisterpølse, boiled potatoes and pickled beets and often turned into a feast, with copious amounts of beer and snaps on festive occasions.
The tradition of Thursday pea soup is common in restaurants and households, and is an unpretentious but well-liked part of social life.
Swedish Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson (1885–1946) had a circle of friends, jokingly referred to as the “peralbinians” (peralbinerna), who for a number of years came to his home every Thursday to eat pea soup, drink hot punsch and play bridge.
Pea soup with pancakes is, with few exceptions, served (either for lunch or dinner) every Thursday in the Swedish Armed Forces and the Finnish Defense Forces, a tradition dating back to World War II.
In Finland and Sweden it is a popular school food, since it is cheap and easy to prepare. In Denmark, gule ærter is often reserved for specific events, traditions or at larger gatherings and it is believed that the dish has a very long history.
It can be dated to 1766 in written sources, but might have originated as early as the Bronze Age, when dried peas and cabbage became popular vegetables for the long winters here.
My version of the classic Finnish recipe is quite traditional – as traditions stand firm against the erosion of time for good reason! 🙂 I also include a recipe for Pannukakku, the baked pancake of Finland!
It is a wonderful dish to prepare when you’re craving pancakes but don’t want to spend a lot of time slaving over a hot griddle.
Battle on – The Generalissimo
300g/10½oz split green peas
pinch of bicarbonate of soda
1 small smoked ham hock with bone, about 1 pound
2 onions, one left whole, peeled and with 2 cloves stuck in it and one diced
1 blade of mace
3 whole allspice
1 tsp dried marjoram
1 tsp ground ginger
2 bay leaves
9 black peppercorns
1 carrot, diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
hot mustard (for stirring into individual soup portions)
Pannukakku (Finnish Pancake)
¾ teaspoons salt
2 ½ cups of whole milk
1 cup flour
¼ cup vanilla sugar (preferred) or just use regular sugar and add ½ tsp vanilla extract
4 Tablespoons butter
a 9×13 pan or a 10×15 pan for a thinner version
whipped cream for garnish
wild berry compote or jam (TFD prefers cloudberry, lingonberry or sea buckthorn – all Finnish specialty items!)
Put the split peas in a bowl with the bicarbonate of soda. Cover with cold water and leave to soak overnight.
Put the ham hock in a large saucepan, cover it with 1½-2 litres/2½-3½ pints cold water and bring to the boil.
As soon as it has reached boiling point remove from the heat. Drain, wash the ham hock and the pan to get rid of any starchy foam.
Put the ham back in the pan and cover with water again. Add the whole onion studded with cloves, allspice, mace, ginger and bay leaves to the pan. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 1 hour.
Rinse the split peas and put in a saucepan, bring to the boil and boil for 10 minutes. Drain the peas and add to the ham hock pan along with the diced onion and carrot.
Add marjoram and simmer until the peas are tender, this should take between 45 minutes to 1 hour. Top up with more water if needed.
Remove the ham hock, whole onion, bay and mace.
Break up the ham hock, discarding the skin and bone and pull the meat into pieces.
Use an immersion blender to blend the soup to a rough purée, add the ham hock meat back into the soup and warm through.
Serve with bread and hot mustard to stir into the soup.
For the Pannukakku:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lightly blend eggs, salt, milk, flour and sugar until a thin batter is formed.
While you are mixing ingredients, place the butter into the pan and let it melt in the oven.
When the batter is completed, gently pour the batter into the hot pan. Cook for 25-30 minutes. The Pannukakku should rise up high out of the pan and turn golden brown.
Take out of the oven and sprinkle with a bit of extra sugar, if you want.
Serve warm with butter and syrup, berry compote, and top with whipped cream.