I remember that it was a Friday night. It was after eight and Dad was not home yet. Mom was worried. Heavy snow and blowing wind had been forecast on WCCO that morning, so she had given Dad a list of groceries to bring home. Our family usually went shopping in Hayward on Friday nights, but my parents agreed that this Friday we would stay home in the snug house Dad had built in a grove of jack pine trees along Phipps Road.
In the early 1950’s Dad’s workday ended at six. Allowing a half hour for shopping and fifteen or twenty minutes to drive the four miles to our house, she figured he would be home before seven. By 7:15 she told us that Dad had probably stopped for a glass of beer at the Twin Gables before heading home. By 7:30 she was joining us kids looking out the windows in the front room.
In the daytime you could see the snowbanks along Highway 63 across the field in front of the house, but they blocked the headlights of any cars on the road at night. Highway 63 had not been upgraded with wide shoulders and ditches, so the snowbanks got higher and higher at the plows pushed the snow off the roadway. This year the snowbanks were so high you could barely see the snowplows on the highway and in places you could almost reach the telephone wires when you stood on top of the banks. Mom warned us not to touch the wires while we waited for the school bus.
When we heard sounds at the back door, we ran to see who was there. In came Dad. His hat and coat were covered with snow and the gunny sack he dropped in front of us looked like the snow-covered packs in pictures of Santa Claus on some Christmas cards. He took off his coat, hat and rubbers and high top work shoes, warmed his feet in front of the stove and put on dry socks.
As we sat down to soup and fresh bread, Dad told us how he managed to get home in the middle of the blizzard by following a snowplow. When he got to Phipps Road, he found that the plows had piled a four-foot-high bank across the road and that the road itself was drifted even with the snowbanks on either side as far as he could see in the dark.
He drove north to his uncle Richard’s home which was just a block off the highway. He had been married to “Aunt Trace,” Dad’s youngest aunt. She had died the year before we moved into our new house along Phipps Road. At her funeral I learned that her name was really Theresa. I remember her as being stout and friendly.
Dad shoveled through the snowbank in his uncle’s driveway to get the car off the road, borrowed a pair of snowshoes and a gunny sack and set out cross country. It was more than half a mile, but the wind was mostly at his back. He knew his way through the woods and finally crossed the field north of our house and found the road from the garden to the house.
Next morning Dad snowshoed back to his uncle’s and drove to work. Mom and I shoveled the driveway and the big pile of snow left by the town plow when it opened Phipps Road so Dad could drive all the way home.
I don’t remember what kind of soup we had that Friday night, but it could have been Mom’s Split Pea Soup. I’m sure that we had fresh bread or dinner rolls, because Mom always baked bread and rolls when she made soup. My sisters both reminded me how much we all loved the smell of freshly baked bread, so that may have explained Dad’s good humor after his adventure.
Here is how to put smiles on the faces of everyone around the dinner table with an absolutely delicious pea soup. For the perfect meal, serve it with some good homemade bread.
1 1/2 – 2 lb. smoked pork hock
2 medium onions (2 1/2 – 3 inches in diameter)
1 medium potato
3 ribs celery
2 large or 3 medium carrots
1 lb. dried green split peas
1 large bay leaf
3 or 4 whole cloves
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste
Put the pork hock in a soup pot or Dutch oven and cover it with cold water. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer the hock for about four hours. Check occasionally, turn the hock and make sure that it is still mostly covered by water. Add a little water if necessary. The long slow simmer extracts gelatin from the bones and skin along with the flavor.
Prepare the vegetables about half an hour before you remove the hock from the broth. Sort the dried peas into a colander by small handfuls to make sure there are no stones or other debris in them and rinse the peas under cold water. Let the peas drain, then add them to the broth before you chop the vegetables.
Cut the stem and root ends off the onions and remove the dry outer layers and peel the potato. Scrub the celery ribs and cut off a little of the top to freshen the cut end. Wash and keep the celery leaves to chop with the ribs. You can peel or thoroughly scrub the carrots and cut off the stem and root tips. Chop the onions into a quarter-inch dice. Chop the carrots into quarter-inch-thick rounds or half rounds. Chop the celery and potato into a half-inch dice.
After the hock has simmered for the four hours, carefully remove it from the water with tongs and let it cool on a plate. Stir the vegetables and spices into the broth. Do not add any salt at this time.
Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer while you remove the meat from the hock. Use a sharp paring knife to remove the skin and separate the fat from the meat. Cut or shred the meat into small pieces and add them to the soup. Continue cooking the soup until the vegetables are tender.
Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Serve with salad, good bread and a beverage of your choice.