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Polar Mail from the Oden

Letters: July 19

It’s Thursday. Pea soup for dinner (Day 13)! Thank you to all the readers who did some research for us, who are marooned out here without encyclopedias or access to the Web, including Michael Keith, Mary-Louise Timmermans and Julie Lipkin from Falmouth. Mass, Meghan Delaney, Scituate, Mass., and Hugh Powell from Santa Cruz, Calif. Excerpts from their research follow, but first I need to correct an error. I referred to köttafårsopppa as “pea soup,” but that refers to “meat soup.” Traditional Swedish pea soup is “ärtsoppa.”

A Tradition of Fasting

The tradition of pea soup as the Thursday meal gained in popularity already in the 1400s. Then the effect of Catholic church was strong in Sweden, especially in Western Gothenland, where there were many monasteries. According to the church rules Friday was for fasting. In the day preceding the fast it became customary to eat as heartily as possible. Pea soup gave strength and kept the hunger away for a long time. The peas were held to be better raw material (for soup) than the ingredients of the common daily meal, swede and cabbage. Moreover, pea soup was handy to make back when food was most often prepared in one cauldron. Pea soup was fortified with a slice of lard.

Although Sweden was converted to Lutheranism around 1530, pea soup continued to be eaten as a standard for Thursday dinners even to today, traditionally with brown mustard and crisp or hardcrusted bread. Over time, other traditions grew up around it. When Sweden began importing arrack from Indonesia and Java in the 18th century, punsch, an arrack-based, sweet yellow liqueur, became the pea soup drink of choice. Then thin Swedish pancakes, topped with preserves or fresh berries.

Sources: Swedish Facts, Wikipdedia

From Wikepedia:

In the Nordic countries, there is a tradition of serving pea soup on Thursdays. In Sweden, King Eric XIV (1533-1577) is mostly remembered for having been poisoned to death with a bowl of pea soup prepared with arsenic. In the canteens of the Swedish Army, pea soup are served every Thursday with pancakes as dessert.

Lonny Lippsett