Sweden and Pea Soup and Pancakes

Discovering what this Thursday tradition is all about.

It is a Thursday in Sweden in November and that can only mean one thing: ärtsoppa och pannkakor! Pea soup and pancakes is a winter time tradition in Sweden, dating back to the Middle Ages. When Sweden was a Catholic country they observed a Friday fast, requiring a nice hearty meal during the Thursday prior.

Enter: pea soup and pancakes. This is a warm and filling meal – yellow pea soup topped with salted pork and finished off with a big helping of Swedish pancakes. With a meal like this on Thursdays, Swedes could definitely make it through their Friday fast.

When the Protestant Reformation swept through Sweden in 1527 during the reign of King Gustav I, the tradition of fasting on Fridays disappeared. But eating pea soup on Thursdays did not. And it still remains in place today!

Pea soup and pancakes is a meal that is found on most husmanskost (traditional, home-cooked dishes) menus across Sweden. It is served at children’s schools and in the military as well on Thursdays. While my research shows that the tradition takes places on Thursdays year round, I personally have only seen ärtsoppa och pannkakor pop up on the menu from about October until February.

Ärtsoppa

In Sweden, yellow peas are commonly used in ärtsoppa, so don’t expect a green hue as is common in split pea soup in the US. And since salted pork was easily available in Swedish homes, it became the natural toping for the soup. Ärtsoppa is seasoned with brown mustard and herbs.

Pannkakor

Swedish pancakes are very thin, more similar to a French crêpes than a fluffy American pancake. They have a spongy texture and are not naturally very sweet, which is why they are topped with whipped cream and jam! Strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, or cloudberry jams might be served, but my favorite is strawberry.

In all honesty, it isn’t my favorite Swedish dish (that would be Swedish meatballs!). It isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing and I don’t go crazy for peas, but it is a tradition I still take part in multiple times every winter. It signals to me that Christmas and Lucia aren’t far away, and add some much needed coziness to the dark winter days. So go enjoy some pea soup and pancakes this Thursday!

Fun Facts:

  • In 1577, King Erik XIV died after eating a bowl of pea soup laced with arsenic. 
  • While pancakes have probably been around much longer, they were first mentioned in European literature is in the 1400s. The pancakes that first appeared in folklore and children’s tales were rolled and filled with strawberry jam and topped with sugar or whipped cream. I often see them served this way to children on hikes today – rolled, instead of the flat plated presentation we receive at restaurants today.
  • Pea soup first appeared in Swedish literature in the 1200s.

Tess’ Tips:

  • My favorite places to have ärtsoppa och pannkakor in Malmö are at Rådhuskällaren and Operagrillen.
  • If you are a vegetarian, know that you can easily ask the waiter to hold the meat!

Hope you learned some new Swedishness today and I’ll see you in the next post!

Sources

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