Erbeßsuppen, a Medieval Pea Soup

Today’s recipe is yet another popular medieval pottage: Pea Soup. If you want to know more about pottages, read my previous post on the subject.

This recipe comes from a German cookbook called Ein New Kochbuch by Max Rumpolt, head cook for Daniel Brendel of Homburg, Elector of Mainz. This cookbook was, according to all available sources, the first textbook for professional chefs in training. There isn’t enough information out there about Max Rumpolt that I trust, but we do know the book was written in 1581 and the digitized version can be accessed here.


The Recipe

Erbeßsuppen is an ideal winter pottage, especially on a fish day. Any household hoping to survive the winter would have a nice stock of preserved and dried foods like split peas. For anyone not wealthy enough afford to buy imported goods and produce, preserved foods would have been all they had to work with.

Because this recipe was written after 1500 it is technically considered Renaissance cooking. However, there is nothing “Renaissance” about it at all. The ingredients are very basic and likely hadn’t changed for a couple hundred years. The transliteration from the original book into modern German text was done by Thomas Gloning and can be accessed here.

Erbeßsuppen

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Erbeßsuppen mit klein gehackten Zwibeln/die geschweißt seyn/pfeffers vnd gelbs/so ist es auch gut

My English translation:

Pea soup with small chopped onions/ that have been sweated/ pepper and yellow/ so it is good too.

The “pepper and yellow” is referring to the seasoning. Pepper (it) and yellow (it), so it is good too. So the chef suggests adding extra flavor with pepper and coloring it with saffron. I have yet to find a medieval recipe that suggests yellowing food with anything other than saffron. Salt isn’t specifically mentioned, but anyone who cooks knows a pea soup needs salt.

I based my redaction below on the ratios suggested by Medieval Cuisine.  My version yields 2-3 servings. Double everything but the olive oil and onions if you plan on feeding the whole family.

Ingredients

  • 2 c. split peas
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 c. water
  • 2 c. vegetable broth
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Optional: pinch of saffron (very small pinch- maybe 5-10 threads)

The instructions are very simple:

  1. Dice and “sweat” the onions in the olive oil. This is almost the same as a sauté, but at a lower temperature to avoid browning.
  2. Add the broth, water, peas and seasonings.
  3. Bring to a boil then simmer for 2 hours.

For authenticity, don’t add anything else to the pot. And if you want to go the peasant route leave the saffron out. Bacon or ham would be fine additions if you’re not a stickler for source accuracy. If you prefer a creamier pea soup blend it up until it is nice and smooth. Otherwise, it is fantastic as is.

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Blend the soup for a creamy texture

I am in general not a huge fan of pea soup, but this one is delicious. Straightforward ingredient-wise and easy to make on the fly. Just make sure you simmer it for the full 2 hours!

 

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