Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Groch. Rhymes with...Nothing, Actually

When I was a kid, my grandma used to to make split pea soup. As the pickiest eater in the family, I turned up my little nose at all kinds of food. But I loved pea soup. Still do.

Except Gran never called it pea soup. She always called it groch. And that's what we called it, too, as in "Gran's making groch for dinner." Which was always a good thing. I never thought about what that meant. It just meant there would be a big pot of pea soup, and saltine crackers, and applesauce, and milk in my jelly-jar glass with the Nestle Quick bunny sticker on it. And for once I would eat an entire meal without picking out any of the parts or hiding it under my plate.

Turns out groch is Polish for "pea." Now, Gran was as German as a person can get, but my grandpa and all his large family was Polish, and so I grew up feeling very, very Polish. Pops and his siblings - my great-aunts and -uncles - peppered their speech with Polish phrases that regrettably I mostly can't remember now. So I supposed it's natural that my grandma would refer to split pea soup the way her in-laws did.

I don't know why we called it groch, however. There's a perfectly good name for pea soup in Polish: grochówka or zupe grochówka . That's just not what we called it. And I rarely call even call it groch any more; turns out the Polish-speakers in my social circle are few and far between. I'm thinking not many Polish immigrants made it to Texas. They probably took one look at what people call "Polish sausage" down here and gave it up for a wasteland. I haven't had a good Polish sausage in years. Plenty of Italian, but no Polish. But I don't think I'm talking about pea soup any more. Or even food.


My sister has gifted me with a meaty hambone left over from Christmas dinner, so I'm going to make a pot of groch. I actually made some after Thanksgiving, but it didn't turn out well. The difference this time will be vodka. To wit, I won't drink half a bottle of it while trying to make the soup this time. A small but, I'm confident, crucial difference.

I'm not sure that requires a recipe, let alone an entire cookbook.
My recipe for groch is simple. You take a bunch of foodstuffs that you find in a good bowl of pea soup and mix them together in ample amounts and cook 'em until they're all hot and mushy. Um, yeah, that's it. I don't measure, and beyond the staples (peas, ham, carrots, potatoes, celery), I don't have a set ingredient list. You do need to add plenty of pepper, and beer is good if you've got some (you can even put it in the soup), and there's all kinds of stuff you can add to the broth while the hambone is cooking to make it taste good. And then you keep tasting it while it's cooking to make sure it tastes like good groch.

In the interest of culinary art, I'll chronicle my recipe for a future post. Or I'll try. At least I'll take pictures. And if you're in my neck of the woods, you can come by and taste it. There will be plenty. No one in my house eats it besides me. Heathens. I'll end up sharing it out with my sister, who after all provided the hambone, and Drummer Boy, who had better not adulterate it with crackers. And you know, whoever shows up with an empty bowl and a Snickers Peanut Butter Squared to trade.



  1. Now here's the weird thing - I looooove Split Pea Soup, but as a rule, I hate peas.

    Although, OK - once in Florence, Italy they brought this huge bowl of buttered peas to our table, and they were so fresh and pretty they looked like perfect emeralds. And they were amazing! They tasted like candy.

    My dad used to say that canned peas tasted like lightning bugs smell. And he's right.

    So to recap - Italian fresh peas with butter, off the chain.

    Split pea soup - YUM.

    Canned peas - insectlike.

  2. My maiden name is Groch. My family came from Forst Brandenburg. Now Poland. I have always love split pea soup but never knew it was groch until I started doing genealogy last year!!!! I am stunned. BTW how do you pronounce it.???


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