Pea Soup with Bacon Ribs, Lancashire

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Pea soup with bacon ribs is surely never going to feature on the menu of a Michelin starred restaurant – the danger of some stick-insect supermodel customer exploding is too great. That explosion risk is two-fold, by the way: the soup is a real filler-upper; and the after-effects mean that if consumed for supper it’s best to nail the duvet down that night.
As a Lancastrian child exiled in Norfolk in the Seventies I recall my father trying to buy bacon ribs locally to make this soup: the butcher had no idea what he was on about, and actually gave him gratis a bag of bones from a side of bacon – which provided stock for about a month. You’ll have no such problem on Bolton or Bury markets, where sheets of bacon ribs are displayed on just about every butcher’s stall.
In some parts of Lancashire this soup is traditionally served on Bonfire Night . The simple ingredients and one-pot cooking, however, point to its antiquity as a relative of pease pudding, and more general use.
A word of warning before attempting the dish: bacon ribs can be salty, so it is worth soaking them before use, even if for just a few hours. And as you need to soak dried-peas overnight if that is what you are using, it shouldn’t be a problem – though do soak them separately.
The recipe is very simple: as with just about every soup you start by frying a chopped onion or two in either oil or butter in a deep pan suitable for soup, and broad enough to take the ribs. When the onion has softened but not browned add your soaked dried-peas (quantity depending on how many mouths to feed) and water enough to cover them and then some. Put in the soaked bacon ribs, and simmer very gently for at least two hours, adding a bit more water if required as you go. The peas dissolve to a wonderful gloop, and the pink bacon will fall from the bones when the ribs are taken out.
A modern variant needing less planning is to use frozen peas. This gives a fresher taste, and a dazzlingly bright colour, but you’ll need to whizz the soup with a hand blender (having first taken out the ribs), and the texture even then won’t be as smooth. If you want more breadth of flavour fry a celery stick or two, strings removed first, with the onion.
Serve the soup in bowls with a plate of ribs for each diner. Do not garnish with parsley. Don’t even think about a swirl of cream.

2 Responses to Pea Soup with Bacon Ribs

From Laura on 5th March 2012
Great recipe! My partner now requests it as a favourite. I also add a couple (or one large) potato to the mix. Depending on the variety, it will either break down into the general consistency of the soup OR will retain a bit of integrity...also, the spud can help countermeasure any excess saltiness.

From Sheila Aldous on 25th January 2010
I have just bought some bacon ribs in our local butcher, Honey,s on Mill Street in Bideford, North Devon. My Mum used to make this when we were children in Longridge. Best soup ever and I hope mine turns out the same as Mum used to make. Dad used to say "it sticks to ribs and keeps thee warm". Great site and will use it again. Thanks. Sheila

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