Heda, Willem Claesz. (1594–c1680). The Colonel approved of this one.
Stilleven met oesters, een citroen, een roemer, een gebroken glas en een omgevallen tazza
Still-life with oysters, lemon, a roemer, a broken glass and fallen tazza.
There are several disadvantages to starting almost every September at a new school, in a new country and often on a new continent. One of the obvious ones is that the only people who will befriend you are the losers and weirdoes. Anyone half-way well-adjusted will be happily catching up with their equally well-adjusted mates and it will be well into October before you get a look-in.
Another is that it becomes all too easy to forget one's traditions, heritage, roots. I recently worked out that, in my early forties, I have had over 30 addresses. That's a lot of moving. Before this sounds like a whingefest, I have of course had some amazing adventures and incredible experiences, but the older I get, the more I feel a visceral need to belong, to have a home, to know that each September that rolls around will bring tradition, the comfort of familiarity, the same old thing. Food is a very good way to instantly capture and establish tradition, especially for a greedy Taurean like me. 'We always have salmon on Christmas Eve,' 'I always bake lemon drizzle cake for birthdays' are boasts that make me feel very centred.
Right, enough introspective bollocks. The point of all this is that as soon as there is a proper chill in the air, I am reminded of that central heating in a bowl, Snert, Dutch pea soup. I have warmed my hands on this since I lived in Antwerp over 25 years ago, a comfort to my adolescent angst, chain-smoking Gauloise Blondes in the shadow of that City's magnificent Cathedral. I made a meatless version of it as an impoverished student in the shadow of another Cathedral in the North of England. I have slurped bowls and bowls of the stuff in my time, in my greed, burning my tongue on its tobacco-coloured silky depths. It was a stunning punctuation to a hilarious afternoon many years ago, which I spent taking the Colonel ('Modern ART? ART? God Almighty, give me a pot of paint and two bloody housebricks...') round the Mauritshuis Museum in the Hague (he adored the still life stuff, hated the nudes because their arses were too big, wouldn't even go into the temporary Bacon exhibit). We sat for hours afterwards in a smoky old dark-panelled cafe; slurping this delicious soup, sipping red wine, talking rubbish and watching the winter afternoon descend beyond the candles of our red-checked table.
I have had some feedback on the general sloppiness of my recipes so far, so for those of you with an anally retentive bent, here are some proper quantities and precise methods. It is worth putting aside an afternoon to make this, and do make heaps of it - it is truly delicious, a meal in a bowl, tastes even more sublime the next day and just think: you can now say "I always make Snert in November."
510g (1lb 2oz) yellow split peas
510g (1lb 2oz) pork ribs
2 litres (3½ pints) water and 2 litres ham stock – feel no shame about using cubes; I boiled a pig’s foot once. Blech.
a smoked sausage in a big horseshoe shape or six of those little Polish kabanos
2 large onions
1 whole medium celeriac - this is non-negotiable, it is essential for depth and sweetness of flavour
1 head of celery including leaves
sea salt and peppercorns
Rinse the split peas well. Place in a large saucepan with water and pork ribs. Bring slowly to the boil and skim off any scum, drain and rinse. Return to the saucepan with the stock. Bring the boil and reduce to a simmer. Peel and dice the potatoes and celeriac , wash and chop the leeks and add to the saucepan. Cook for 1½-2 hours, (until the peas are tender and breaking up), skimming if needed. Twenty minutes before the end of cooking, remove the ribs, cut off any rind and de-bone, cut in small pieces. Don’t grumble, it’s a pain but it will mean you can eat your soup so much quicker. Chop the celery and leaves. Add the meat, celery and sausage to the saucepan.Slice the sausage, stir in until warmed through and sprinkle with celery leaves or flat parsley to serve. Adjust the seasoning before serving.
For the full experience, eat with candles, Old Masters, dark beer and pumpernickel bread.