Andersen’s Split Pea Soup

Hap-Pea and Pea-Wee, the friendly mascots of Pea Soup Andersen’s

Growing up, every once in a while, my dad would come up a brilliant idea: “Let’s go to Pea Soup Andersen’s for lunch!” The restaurant was a 1.5 hour drive from my hometown. It was, admittedly, a long way to go for a bowl of soup… but I never questioned it. In fact, I looked forward to it. We’d pile into his truck and cruise through the California countryside to Buellton. Along the way, Dad loved to recount the story of when he first visited Andersen’s.

“There was a guy with long hair sitting at the counter– a hippy. He ordered the ‘Traveler’s Special,’ a bottomless bowl of soup. The guy didn’t realize he could get a free refill. When the waitress came by, he looked at her with big, sad eyes and said, Oliver Twist-style, ‘Can I please have some more?’ He was shocked when she gave him one refill, then another, then another. He just couldn’t get enough of that soup.”

I don’t know why that story amused my dad so much, but it did, and I always enjoyed hearing him tell it. Those weekend jaunts to Buellton are one of my favorite childhood memories. And the soup… oh, the soup!

On a recent summer road trip with my hubby, we left Los Angeles and drove up the 101 freeway towards the Central Coast. I knew we’d be passing through Buellton, so I insisted we stop in for a bowl of soup. Along the freeway, for miles in each direction, billboards beckoned us to the restaurant. The Andersen’s cartoon mascots, Hap-Pea and Pea-Wee, held up signs to let us know how many miles we had left… 112 miles! 35 miles! The countdown built anticipation as I imagined that creamy, comforting bowl of pea soup. Before we knew it, we were there.

Pea Soup Andersen’s first opened their doors on June 12, 1924. The small cafe was run by Danish immigrant Anton Andersen and his wife, French immigrant Juliette. Anton had been a maître d’hôtel and catering manager, first in New York, then Los Angeles. His brother ran a business in the Danish town of Solvang, just a few miles from Buellton, so Anton and Juliette visited the area frequently. Over time, the couple grew tired of city life. When the 101 freeway was diverted through Buellton and electricity first came to the area, Anton and Juliette decided to buy a parcel of land. They moved to Buellton with their young son Robert T. and open a cafe. It was originally called “Andersen’s Electrical Cafe,” named after the family’s coveted electric stove– the only one in the Santa Ynez valley at that time.

The Andersen family – Anton, Robert T., and Juliette – standing in front of Andersen’s Electrical Cafe

“Andersen’s Electrical Cafe” started as a roadside diner, catering to weary highway travelers. Anton acted as a short order cook, while Juliette became known for her finer French-inspired specialties. The couple tried out a variety of dishes in the beginning, adopting the ones that customers liked best–sandwiches, pancakes, ice cream. The little cafe became well known in the area, and customers began to visit from nearby Santa Barbara. Reporters from the Hearst newspaper empire would pass through on their way to and from Los Angeles and San Francisco. Celebrities stopped by on their trips up and down the coast. Before long, the cafe had made its mark on the local landscape.

About three months after opening, Anton and Juliette introduced pea soup to the menu. It was an immediate success, leading them to make the soup a permanent fixture. At that time the cafe was tiny, and Anton didn’t have a place to store the large sacks of dried peas needed for the increasing soup demand. He solved this by placing the gunnysacks in the window, along with a sign that read: “The Original Home of Split Pea Soup.” It started with an initial order of 10 pounds of peas… then 100. Within three years of opening, the Andersen’s had placed an order for one ton of split peas from Chicago. That’s a lot of peas!

In 1928, the Andersen’s expanded their business, building a hotel and adjacent dining room. They renamed the place the “Bueltmore,” combining the name of the Biltmore hotel (where Anton once worked) and Buellton. In the late 1930’s, Anton and Juliette’s son Robert joined the family business. Known by the nickname “Pea-Soup,” Robert was responsible for many of the marketing plans that helped bring the restaurant even greater success– billboards along the highway, family-friendly menus, and announcing to the public that they sold over 100,000 bowls of soup per year. The hotel was again renamed– Andersen’s Valley Inn. Robert’s wife, Rosemary, opened a gift shop in the restaurant. The business continued to grow.

The hotel briefly closed during World War II and housed soldiers. When it reopened after the war, Robert commissioned Disney cartoonist Milt Neil to create new drawings for their official pea-splitting mascots. A contest was held to name the two characters– Hap-Pea and Pea-Wee. The dining room was enlarged, and the inn was once again renamed in 1947. The new name, Pea Soup Andersen’s, became permanent, as did the original logo from the Electrical Cafe so many years ago… “The Home of Split Pea Soup.”

Over the years, Pea Soup Andersen’s continued to expand. A Danish bakery and cocktail lounge were added. New restaurants were opened in Santa Maria and Salinas. The family business was eventually sold to Vince Evans, a local actor and ranch owner who was good friends with Ronald Reagan. Under Vince’s ownership, the business flourished, eventually purchasing 50 tons of split peas a year to keep up with demand. The Santa Maria and Salinas locations were sold, and another location was added in Santa Nella, CA. Vince ran the business successfully for 15 years. In 1980, sadly, he and his family died in a small plane crash near Santa Ynez airport. The business was eventually purchased by Pea Soup Properties Limited in 1983; that corporation continues to run the business today. The company now sells over 1.5 million bowls of pea soup per year; they also sell canned pea soup to grocery stores across the country.

What I love most about Andersen’s is how quaint and kitschy it is. It remains unchanged from my childhood– the same carpet, pea-green walls and orange seats that I remember sitting in as a ten year-old. It’s oddly cozy, with a Danish theme throughout. Bringing my husband there for lunch was a trip down memory lane.

I ordered the Traveler’s Special, like I always do… a bottomless bowl of soup, pumpernickel bread, onion bread, and a chocolate milkshake. The bread just okay (not as good as I remember it). The milkshake was so thick and creamy, I had to eat it with a spoon. And the soup… oh, the soup!

You can get it with ham added, if you want. I’ve always opted for the meat-free version. It has plenty of flavor on its own.

When I was a kid, the soup was only half the thrill. The best part of the meal was getting to the bottom of the bowl, which is decorated by a cartoon of Hap-Pea and Pea-wee. Ahh, simple pleasures…

After we’d had our fill of soup, we headed out through the gift shop. I picked up a copy of the Pea Soup Andersen’s cookbook, a thin volume of restaurant-inspired classics and authentic Scandanavian recipes. Of course, I was most interested in the famous Pea Soup Recipe. There are other fun vintage dishes in there, too, including Danish Meatballs, Herring in Sour Cream, and Stuffed Onions.

Even though the recipe in the cookbook says it’s the “official” pea soup recipe, I felt it wasn’t quite right, so I adapted it slightly. After a bit of tweaking, it’s just like the soup I grew up loving. You’ll want to use a food mill to acheive the proper texture (I use this one at home and recommend it highly). Don’t be put off by the green pureed appearance. If you’ve never tried Andersen’s soup before, you’re in for a treat! I topped mine with a few chunky seasoned breadcrumbs, they sopped up the soup nicely. Obviously you should omit the breadcrumbs if you’re gluten free or watching your carbs.

If you’re ever heading up or down the 101 freeway along the Central Coast of California, and you begin to see billboards with Hap-Pea and Pea-Wee, take their advice. Stop by Andersen’s for a Traveler’s Special. You can thank me later. :)

 

Andersen's Split Pea Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 cups green split peas
  • 1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 1 bay leaf, crumbled into very small pieces
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp seasoned salt (I use Lawry's)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

You will also need

  • Soup pot. mesh strainer, food mill
Total Time: 1 Hour
Servings: 6
  • Sort the peas in a mesh strainer, removing any stones or impurities. Rinse them clean.
  • Combine the peas, celery, carrot, onion, thyme, bay leaf and cayenne in a soup pot and cover with 2 quarts (8 cups) of water.
  • Bring the pot to a boil. Keep at a high simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Reduce heat to a low simmer. Let the mixture cook for another 25-30 minutes till the peas are completely tender. Towards the end of cooking, add the seasoned salt, then add salt and pepper to taste. I use about 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper. Use less if you're sodium-sensitive.
  • Strain the peas through a food mill or a fine mesh sieve. A food mill will create the smoothest, creamiest texture.
  • Strain the pea mixture till all of the liquid is pushed through, and only pulp remains.
  • A creamy soup will result.
  • Bring the soup to a quick boil once more on the stovetop, then remove from heat immediately. If the soup seems too thick, add some hot water to thin it out to the desired consistency.
  • Serve hot. I like to garnish the soup with a few breadcrumbs. Omit them to keep the soup gluten free and vegan. Keep leftover soup in a sealed tupperware. When the soup is chilled, it will solidify. Adding a little water and stirring as you reheat will help the soup to heat up more smoothly.

Comments (51)Post a Comment

  1. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Sounds yummo – similar to what I’ve been making all my life.
    I am salt-sensitive and don’t want to add the Lawry’s What would suggest I could use to zip it up a little?
    I no longer have a food mill, or working blender — but the immersion blender works fine on my legumy soups.

    1. Hi Anad, the immersion blender will be fine, but the soup will turn out much thicker and less smooth– the texture will be very different. If you’re okay with that, then great! Try making it first as written, without seasoning salt. You may like the flavor. For a little more zing, add additional cayenne or red pepper flakes. Add with care, they’re both pretty spicy. Enjoy!

  2. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    mmm… I can smell it, it bring so many memories from my childhood, this recipe sounds great (i love the plate) I will try it for sure, thanks again Tori for a fantastic recipe and the history. xoxo

  3. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I will have to make this soup! I hadn’t thought about Anderson’s in many, many years, since I moved from L.A. to Texas 27 years ago. It was one of my favorite places growing up, my parents and I used to go there on the way to Solvang! I’m so glad to hear it’s still there! I have a food mill I’ve never used, it has 3 different size “plates”, the largest one has holes about the size of what is on the side of a box grater. the others are pretty small, what size should I use? Thank you for posting the story, it brings back great memories!

  4. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Tori,you made my day! This brought back wonderful memories from my childhood as well :). I’m a Chicago girl, but remember a family driving trip when I was a little girl up the coast of CA, which included a stop at Anderson’s! I still remember sticking my head through the wooden cut outs alongside the restaurant with my brother, while posing for a “required” picture! I appreciate you posting this story AND recipe much more now, than when I was forced to eat my pea soup as a kid ;). I adore your blog and love your writing!

    Chag Sameach!

  5. A Central Coast institution, for sure! We went to the one in Santa Nella on our way home from visiting our son, same kitschy vibe, but still not the same as the original. Thanks for letting people know about another historical spot in Hearst’s “Middle Kingdom”!

  6. Wow! The cartoon on the bottom of the soup bowl was a blast from the past. My dad, uncle and I stopped there for pea soup on our way back from Hearst Castle in 1983. They had the recipe posted in a newsletter that I tried out later for my composer friend, John Cage. He loved it.

    1. John Cage was so very talented. I loved learning about him in music theory. He became one of my heroes and let me tell you, it’s a singularly strange feeling to find out that a hero loved pea soup.

  7. I just love this article. You’ve totally made me want to seek out Pea Soup Andersens. Alas, I live on the opposite coast, so I will have to put it in my (imaginary) file of places to visit.
    I’ve made pea soup plenty of times and was never able to achieve the consistency I like. I will be using your foodmill technique for sure.

  8. The second gift I’ve received today and it just so happens that I bought a food mill about 2 weeks ago! Coincidence–I think not!
    I remember Pea Soup Andersen’s–we would eat there on our way down to southern California and I’ve loved split pea soup ever since:) I can hardly wait to try this out some cold autumn day.
    LOVE your blog and appreciate all the time you put into it.
    Blessings,
    Aimee

  9. My husband and I did a cross country trip this summer from Florida to Calif. and found Pea Soup Andersons and had a lovely dinner of Pea Soup. I always use a ham bone in my pea soup but we only have ham on holidays. This recipe dosent need a ham bone and I can make pea soup and save money for our next trip up the east coast to N.Y.C.

  10. Try adding smoked paprika to this for a really nice flavor! (Tori, you’re the reason I have smoked paprika in the first place — thanks to you I now try it in lots of different recipes.)

  11. Question- I live in Grants Pass Oregon – I accidently stumbled upon your Andersons’ Tomatoe soup at Grocery out- let -here in my town –I bought cases- months ago they ran out –now i cannot find any in regular stores –Where can I purchase the Tomatoe soup ??? Please help –we love it .

    1. Hi Suzana,

      How cool is that? That receipt is from the Bueltmore, which opened in 1928– it was the Andersen family’s first major expansion from a simple cafe, when they added an adjacent hotel. The receipt likely dates somewhere between 1928 and 1935. Anton named it as a play on words from his time working at the Biltmore Hotel, combining it with the town’s name, Buellton. The recipe is very similar to the one in the cookbook, though it calls for a bit more celery and one more carrot. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Thank you so much for writing the article on Andersens, ohhhh what memories it brings back being born in the valley and growing up there.
    The first job I ever had was washing dishes at Andersens, and it didn’t last very long after I droped a stack of plates and bowels on Bob Andersens foot!
    I was born and raised in Solvang, and can always remember dinning at Andersens quite often when ever we could afford it. We used to go there at least once every month or so after attending church….Those were the “Good Old Days” way back in the 40’s.
    We were truly blest to be raised in that area of California, and especially in that era.

  13. I grew up is Sant Maria and Anderson’s was a family tradition. There were Sundays after church when all four kids pilled into the station wagon and headed South to Buelleton. Sometimes we would do the breakfast thing and get pancakes but we always got split pea soup. As my Mother’s health declined Anderson’s Split Pea Soup was one of her favorite meals. I live on the east coast now and have to make my own. It is really good, but not nearly as fun as finding Ha-Pea and Pea-We at the bottom of the bowl.

  14. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Made this last night and it came out delicious! I didn’t have a food mill and realized after i started cooking that my immersion blender died. I kept cooking the soup on a high simmer for over an hour and eventually the peas start to fall apart and the soup becomes creamy. Its not completely smooth, but it tasted incredible. Tori, bring us more soup recipes please!

  15. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Oh what a wonderful memory! My family used to drive up to Andersen’s often when I was little. It wasn’t too long of a drive from Ventura, where I’m from. Thanks so much for the recipe!:-)

  16. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    I am enjoying reading about your recipes, especially this one.
    Love the comment section.
    We don’t get TV where we live. So I not able to watch when
    you are on TV. Live in Springerville AZ. Enjoy your insight and recipes and most importantly the history behind some of these recipe. So
    much of our history is getting lost because we haven’t given
    our kids, immediate family and grand kids and great grand kids the recipes and history behind the recipes. One of my husband’s aunt passed away and the family put together her recipes (family one’s) and mailed them out to immediate family as a memorial gift. It had quite a bit of history about my husband’s family and good recipes as well. Thank you for your blog.

  17. I live in Illinois and would like to buy the Cookbook from you.
    Could you e-mail me Please. Thank You, Jill Calhoon 2-16-2013

    1. I have not done it myself, but yes, you absolutely can add it if you’d like. Andersen’s offers two varieties of this soup, one with ham and one without.

  18. Made soup today. So good, add shredded carrots and small cubed red potatoes, ham steak, cooked then cube it. Fresh bread/French bread, butter. Salad. So good!! funny I found this site.

  19. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    purchased the cookbook from Buellton in July 2013, only now gotten around to making the soup…just delicious, we feel we have contributed to Ozzies from Sydney to visit Andersons because of the soup, best served with slices of real sourdough to help clean the plate.

  20. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    I grew up in the Netherlands. Often we would go skating on the canals are are they desgnated areas. Very often they would be a kiosk where one could buy pea soup very much like that describes here of course thicker the better advice and when you were cold what a fantastic way to warm up with a nice fresh bowl of pizza created with smoked sausage what a treat.

  21. I’m from Vancouver, BC, and this made me think fondly of our family trip down to California when I was ten. We stopped by this restaurant, and I absolutely loved the soup. I can still taste it after twenty-five years! I’ll have to remember to stop by Buelton the next time I bring my family to California. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  22. Thank you Tori for all the effort you put into your web site. All the stories and the history surrounding the food and the people that make it are really fascinating. After you put the soup through the food mill what do you do with the puree? Is it put back into the soup or is it used for anything else? Thank you for everything.

    1. Hi Avi, thank you for writing! There usually isn’t much puree left in the food mill. I toss it, since adding it to the soup will mess with the silky texture. Makes great compost!

  23. I took my kids two years ago at Christmas. We stayed in Solvang at the Inn and even my picky Eater loved this soup. Thanks for the recipe going to make it tonight. I don’t have a food mill but hope the Ninja will work ok for this.

    1. Hi Whitney, if you use the Ninja the soup will be thicker and won’t have the same silky texture of Andersen’s, but the flavor will be the same. Enjoy!

  24. Not a very good recipe.
    Bland – flavourless.
    I’d go with a traditional Canadian Split Pea soup recipe.
    MUCH better flavour and nutrition.

    1. I’m sorry you felt that way Random. For those of us who grew up eating Andersen’s, this soup is full of flavor and good memories. It is certainly different from other pea soups, however my family doesn’t find it “bland” or “flavorless.” We enjoy its simplicity.

  25. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    This was a wonderful version of a long loved recipe. I changed it a bit and added a ham bone during the beginning cooking process, then removed it and used my submersion blender rather than the food mill. I than replaced the bone and added cubed ham pieces. This did make it somewhat heartier but very tasty none the less. Thank you for the best split pea I have ever had. This is going into the family recipe book now.

  26. A favorite summer outing for my family and me was a trip up the coast, stopping in Bulleton for split pea soup, kicking around the local missions, and ending up in Solvang. Oh, the memories. Thanks for the recipe.

  27. Nice story and because I travelled ou and down the 101 as a child with my family, it brought good memories. Doesn’t the original recipe call for a clove of garlic? If not, it works in my opinion . Also, bay leaves are very powerful when crumpled or ground. I prefer to put it in whole and fish it out later or it’s overwhelming to me.

    1. Hi Blake, no the original recipe doesn’t call for it but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. The bay leaves don’t actually make it into the finished soup, even though they are crumbled they cannot fit through the food mill. You can leave them whole for a less potent flavor if you prefer.

  28. Tori, I didn’t mean for my comment to sound so negative so I apologize if it seemed that way. Initially I was comparing your recipe to the one I make that utilizes a smoked Pork hock as the base. Last year I made it for my Mom and she was impressed. It was a huge boost to my ego because, like many other children, I loved my Mom’s cooking. To impress my Mom was an honour a rarity.
    Again I apologize if my comment was received as negative or offended you.

  29. I love the Split Pea Soup from Anderson’s. This has been a very cold fall for Dallas and I have been making all of my family friendly soups yet I still kept thinking of the soup from Anderson’s. My parents loved Solvang and we would plan our trip to Solvang around having at least one meal if not more at the restaurant.
    After moving away from CA I have spent years trying to perfect their soup and I think I have gotten close but the addition of the by leaf and thyme will make it just right. I am making it tonight and can’t wait to try it. Thanks for the recipe.

  30. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Thank you so much for the recipe, Tori! I made your pea soup version tonight and it brought back so many wonderful memories of my childhood vacations, traveling up the coast with my parents and stopping in Buellton and Solvang for family day trips. We made many a pitstop at Pea Soup Anderson’s. Running across your recipe was a lucky find that reminded me again of how connected food and family are. Happy holidays!

Leave a Comment

Please rate recipe if you had a chance to try it: 5 4 3 2 1

Please read through the entire post and comments section before asking a question, as it may have already been answered. First time commenting? Read the comment policy.