French pea soup

A recipe from the seventeenth century
Extra recipe: Dutch pea soup from the fifteenth century

The recipe for snert, traditional Dutch pea soup

Plan for a table for 18 persons according to the Service à la Française.This recipe for a nutritious soup made of split peas dates from the era of Louis XIV, the French Roi Soleil. The soup is meatless, and fits in a vegetarian diet.
Potage was served during the first course of a meal. Often a thick slice of dry or toasted bread was placed on the bottom of the soup bowl. This bread was first steeped in broth. Then the potage was poured over it, and the bread thickened the soup. However, in this recipe no bread is being used. You won't miss it, the soup is nutritious enough as it is.

Service à la Française

Potage was not the only dish that came to the table during the first course. The table was covered with symmertically positioned dishes with various contents (see picture). For the second course everything on the table was replaced by new, different dishes. This way of serving a meal was called service à la française. This way of serving food was not changed until the nineteenth century, when the service à la russe became popular. This meant that the different dishes were no longer placed at the same time on the table. Instead, the dishes were served one after another. This way of serving is what we still do today. The service à la française could be compared to a buffet, but placed on the dining table, around which the host and his guests were seated. The potage could be served at the same time as roasted quails and boiled artichokes. See also the recipe for kale with chestnuts and groats.

French cookbooks in the seventeenth century

Since the end of the Middle Ages there were many reprints and new compilations of old works, but no really new cookbooks were written. In the middle of the seventeenth century this changed. The first innovating cookbook was Le cuisinier françois, written by François-Pierre de la Varenne (1651). It was very succesfull, and within a couple of years it was translated in English and German (but not in Dutch). The culinary developments went on: in 1674 the anonymous L.S.R. fulminates against the hopeless oldfashionedness of La Varenne in the introduction of his L'Art de bien traiter.
The books that were published after Le cuisinier françois were not merely cookbooks, but manuals for the maître d'hotel. In L'Art de bien traiter one can find instructions on how to organize a meal in a cave, on the water or in the garden. Very few recipes can be found in La maison reglée from Audiger (1692). This book explains the duties of al manner of servants in the house of a "grand seigneur", be that in town or in the country. An example: "A kitchen maid must start in the morning with cleaning and sweeping the kitchen, sprinkle water everywhere, put away and clean the kitchenware; wash the silver tableware thoroughly and clean it with bran water and scour it when necessary with the ashes of hay, without using scouring powder or fine sand; because the ash of hay is sufficient to let sparkle if one knows how to use it. To remove stains which are sometimes on the tableware because of eggs, one must moisten the dishes and put in dark ash (? cendre rouge), let it rest, and then scour. This removes the stains without them reappearing. She must also sweep the dining room every day and the grand stairs, clean the herbs well and do other small duties, and go everywhere where she is sent." (editie p.481).
More French recipes from the seventeenth century: Salmon in Red Wine Sauce, Royal Peas, Crême brûlée, Potage à la Reine, Potage au Jacobine, Spinach Pie, Pomegranate Salad.

The original recipe
This recipe is taken from Le cuisinier françois méthodique (anonymous), Paris, 1660, published in La gastronomie au Grand Siècle.100 recettes de France et d'Italie by F. Sabban and S. Serventi (p.126). I have not yet seen the entire cookbook, but that will happen in the future.
A thick peasoup called snert is one of the most typical Dutch recipes. Below is an extra historical recipe for peasoup from a Middle Dutch manuscript.

Potage de pois cassés aux carottes.
Mettez dans un pot assez d'eau pour faire un grand plat de potage, et quand elle sera bouillante adjoutez-y une demy livre de bon beurre frais, du sel à discrétion; puis vous y mettez un demy litron de pois secs, trois ou quatre carottes bien nettes coupées par morceaux, et les faites bien cuire, ôtant les ecailles des pois tant que l'on pourra, et une heure avant que dresser, on mettra des herbes douces dans le pot, comme de'l'oseille, du cerfeuil, de la chicorée blanche avec un peu de persil, une ciboule, ou un oignon, une pincée de sarriette, deux ou trois clous de girofle, faites cuire tout ensemble, et le dressez lorsqu'il sera fait, et de bon goust.
Soup of split peas with carrots.
Put enough water in a pot to make a large dish of potage. When it is boiling add half a pound of good unsalted butter and salt to taste. Then you add 300 gram dried peas, three or four carrots, well cleaned and cut in pieces, and let all this cook well. Remove as much of the husks of the peas as possible. Add fresh herbs to the pot one hour before serving, such as sorrel, chervil, endives and some parsley, a spring onion or an onion, a pinch of savory [and] two or three cloves. Let boil together. Dress [the dish] when ready with good taste.

Modern adaptation of the recipe
Printout version
If you've read the original French recipe perhaps you've wondered about the translation of 'chicorée blanche' as 'endives'. Because chicorée blanche, isn't that chicory or Belgian endive? Yes, in our days, but not in the seventeenth century. Originally chicorée blanche indicated endive with light coloured leaves.  It wasn't until the end of the nineteenth century that endive was raised without daylight, under the soil or indoors, with compact, creamy-white bitter endive as result. Since the recipe on this page is from the seventeenth century, just use the lighter leaves of ordinary endive.
For 8 persons (2 litres/4 pints of soup).

French pea soup: nutritious and delicious.Ingredients
300 gram (1 1/2 cup) split peas
3 large carrots
50 gram (1/4 cup) butter (the recipe indicates 250 gram/1 cup)
chopped sorrel, chervil, endives and parsley
1 onion or spring onion, chopped
1 sprig of savory
3 cloves
salt to taste

Preparation
Bring water to the boil. Add the split peas, bring to the boil again. Pour the water off and rinse the peas under the tap. Take fresh water, two litres/quarts (or 4 pints). Bring this to the boil with split peas and butter. Add the carrots after 30 minutes. Add the herbs, onions and cloves after another 30 minutes. Simmer until the peas have broken, stir once in a while. 

To serve
At once. When you make this soup in advance and want to reheat it, add some water. The soup must remain fluid.

Extra recipe - Southern Dutch pea soup from the fifteenth century

Medieval pea soup.The recipe is taken from ms KANTL Gent 15, second part. Edition: W.L. Braekman, Een nieuw zuidnederlands kookboek uit de vijftiende eeuw. Scripta 17, Brussel, 1986, recipe nr 92 (p.53). About this manuscript.
The erweijten (peas) in this recipe can mean either green peas or marrow fat (or field) peas. The liquid in which peas were boiled was frequently used during Lent as a replacement of meat broth. This recipe can also be found in Een notabel boecxken van cokerijen (recipe nr.152, 'Om pareye te maken'). In that version the boiling liquid of the peas is thickened with bread crumbs. During Lent raisins are added to the soup. 
The expression puree is confusing. It would seem to mean 'something mashed', but from "pureye van herweten [...] dat claer is" ("Puree of peas [...] that is clear", in a recipe for pike in ms UB Gent 476) it appears that the liquid is strained. However, because in the Notabel boecxken the pea soup is thickened (albeit with bread crumbs) I have chosen to leave the peas in the soup.

Totten soppen van poereen.
Neemet puereije van erweijten als zij op haer breken zijn, ende laet dat zeer zieden te voren alleen, ende dan doet men daerin onioene, ende olije te samen gebert, ende daerna nemet comijn, sofferaen, ende vrijft dat ontwee, ende slaet duer een stamijn metter pureijen, ende laet dat naesieden.
For soup of cooking liquid of peas.
Take liquid of peas when they start to break, and let that boil well with nothing added. Then one adds onions and oil, fried together. Then take cumin and saffron and grind this. Strain through a sieve with the liquid, and let is simmer.

Modern adaptation of the recipe
Printout version
For 4 persons.

Pea soup - Boil 250 gram (1 1/4 cup unsoaked) dried and soaked peas (green or marrowfat) in one litre water until they are almost done. Fry two chopped onions in oil and add these to the peas. Steep half a teaspoon of saffron stalks in one tablespoon of hot water and crush them to release the colour. Add one teaspoon ground cumin. Mix the spices with the peas and puree the soup with a blender or push through a sieve. Bring to boil once more, and serve.
You can sieve the peas out of the cooking liquid and use bread crumbs instead to thicken the soup.

Ingredients
All descriptions of ingredients

Bibliography
The editions below are in my possession. Links refer to available editions.
All books mentioned on this site (with short reviews)