On Swedish pea soup and Thursday traditions

Soup for dinner in Copenhagen

Pea soup on Thursday is a Swedish tradition I support enthusiastically. During the past year, I’ve integrated the habit into my routine. Not precisely pea soup — nor the crepes and strawberry preserves that usually accompany it — but any soup is my go-to Thursday dinner. Although the Swedish (and Finnish) custom has religious roots dating to the middle ages — or so goes one version of the story — my routine has roots relating to lectures on 13th century Italian poetry. Just as the tradition has stuck around in for a few centuries in Sweden, it’s stuck around in my meal plan too.

There are various stories floating about regarding the roots of the Swedish/Finnish tradition, but most attribute it to all classes looking for a meal that would fill them up for Church-imposed fasting on Friday. Yet it doesn’t matter precisely why the habit formed or why it’s stuck around. The tradition takes the questions out: we eat pea soup on Thursday because we’ve always done so and why should we stop now. University cafeterias and school canteens serve it. Home cooks make it and restaurants serve it. It’s a common dish in the Swedish and Finnish military. Whether you choose to eat Chinese food and pizza every other night of the week, coming back to tradition of Thursday grounds a Swedish identity. While not everyone is going to eat the soup all the time, the knowledge that it’s there establishes a connection between individual, region and history.

In the future Swedes may favor a different Thursday meal and I may shun soup Thursdays. But the option will remain as a default, a choice that requires little thought while cooking up a big pot of comforting nostalgia. With pancakes if you like.

Here are 5 soup recipes (including one for the classic Swedish pea version) to get you started:

  1.  Ärtsoppa – Swedish pea soup is classic, warming and perfect for Thursdays. Just do yourself a favor and don’t buy it in a pre-packaged tube.
  2. Soup au pistou – This light soup comes from the south of France and is filled with vegetables cooked in an herb-rich broth. Pistou is the French version of pesto made without pine nuts and cheese.
  3. Tuscan bread soup – You could keep this for a winter meal, but you’d be missing out. Stale bread turns to delicious, chewy pieces smothered in tomato sauce with sage and cheese. It’s like pizza in a bowl, but way better. 
  4. Leek and potato soup – This soup keeps appearing on menus for a reason. Extremely simple and extremely satisfying, Clotilde’s version manages to be earthy, rich and light all in one bite.
  5. Broccoli soup – Broccoli soup may sound uninspiring, but this version from Orangette is anything but. Simmered with a rind of cheese, herbs and lemon this dish is simultaneously sophisticated and comforting. The ‘sour cream’ topping is nice, but unnecessary in my view. 

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