A Sparkling Vintage Life

“Shelling Peas”
Myles Birket Foster (1825-1899)

During the Great Depression, food budgets were tight, and meat had to stretch a long way. In this 1930s-era dish, the ham plays a supporting role, not a starring one. It’s a great way to use up leftovers.

The ham-and-pea combination always makes me think of spring. I got to wondering why ham seems like a springtime meat, seen so often on Easter dinner tables. I learned that, traditionally, hogs were slaughtered in the fall. In pre-refrigeration days, any meat that wasn’t going to be eaten promptly had to be cured for storage. The curing process took several months, meaning the ham would be ready right about Eastertime. The green peas against the pink ham look very springlike to me.


1 teaspoon butter
1/2 cup cooked ham, chopped
11/4 cup chopped onion
2 cups fresh or frozen peas
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon dried dill
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
dash of salt (optional–the ham is pretty salty already)

Heat butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add ham and onion. Cook and stir until onion is tender, about 2 minutes.

Stir in peas, broth, dill, pepper, and salt if desired. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until peas are tender.

Serves 4.