Spring Soup from France – and Chicago!

Pea soup
Pea soup - French cookbookWhen it comes to translating French cooking for American cooks, Julia Child still reigns as the grande dame. She made her first television appearance simply to publicize her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, at Boston’s WGBH in 1961 – and quite unexpectedly built a TV cooking career. Before then, Americans learned about French cooking from books such as The French Cookbook by the Culinary Arts Institute in Chicago (1955) [See more historic Culinary Arts Institute recipes here]. Illustrated with drawings of French people in rustic costumes, the book assumes French cooking is exotic. The introduction encourages readers to try the unfamiliar concept of using wine in their cooking because “a food cooked in wine doesn’t necessarily taste like wine.” Clearly, American tastes have evolved since then!

So what French food did Americans learn to make in the 1950s? Complicated sounding canapés, beef Burgundy, cream puffs, and crepes. Green Pea Soup (Potage Saint-Germain) sounded more appealing – and seasonal. I adapted it to make it even easier and lighter. Would a real French chef serve my version? Probably not. But its contrasting shades of green made a colorful and welcome spring appetizer.

Pea soup - lettuce
Green Pea Soup (Potage Saint-Germain) (1955)
Serves 4

1 small head lettuce, shredded [I used Boston lettuce]
2 cups shelled fresh green peas [about 10 ounces]
1 cup water
1/2 cup chopped leeks, green part only
2 tablespoons fat [I used butter]
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chervil [I used parsley]
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

  1. Place all ingredients in a pot. Bring quickly to boiling and cook until peas are tender, about 5 minutes.
  2. Reserve 3 tablespoons of peas for garnish. Put the remaining mixture through a sieve [Instead of using a sieve, I simply pureed everything with an immersion blender, stirred in 1/2 cup whole milk, heated through, and served with the pea garnish].

Here’s the rest of the original recipe:

  1. Return the sieved mixture to the pan. Reheat with 2 cups bouillon or chicken stock. Just before serving, blend in and heat thoroughly 2 cups cream. Garnish with reserved cooked peas. [If you follow this version, you’ll make 5-6 servings of very thin, smooth soup].
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About heritagerecipebox

I am named after my great-grandmother, who only prepared two dishes, according to anyone who remembers: hamburgers shaped like squares and peanut butter sandwiches. Fast forward 100 years and 500 miles north from my hometown of Richmond, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts. Somehow, I ended up with a cooking gene as well as an interest in history and family stories. I have worked as a journalist and published three cookbooks plus a memoir. This blog gives me a chance to share family recipes and stories -- and other American recipes with a past. What do you have to share?
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