Eat Like the Stars: Bette Davis’ Split Pea Soup and Boston Baked Beans

by Jenny Hammerton 

Are the nights drawing in where you are?  Are you staying indoors a little more, snuggling up on your sofa with a lovely warming bowl of hearty soup or spicy stew? Here in the UK we all are….Comfort food is what we are after.

November 14th marks the start of Split Pea Soup Week. I think this may be the ultimate comfort food, but when was the last time you had some?  A special themed week might be your excuse to cook up a batch of this classic retro dish. Mark you though, this ain’t some crazy new marketing idea dreamed up recently by the Split Pea Marketing Board, it’s been around since way back in 1969!  It’s only fair that we should try and join in.











Bette Davis’ recipe for split pea soup appeared in a cookbook published in 1933 entitled Famous Recipes by Famous People . Bette had only been in the movie business for a couple of years by this point, but was about to come to the critics’ attention in her breakthrough film Of Human Bondage . Perhaps Bette was eating on a budget before she was a hit, and you can’t get a much more budget dish than this. In the modern age, it seems you have to beg, borrow or steal a ham bone, but I’ll bet in 1933, no butcher would have been immune to Bette’s charms. I’ll warrant they gave her a ham bone for free and gratis.


Bette Davis’ Split Pea Soup


2 quarts (1900ml) cold water
1 1/2 cups (375g) split peas
Bone from ham and small piece of ham, diced
1 small onion
2 stalks celery
1 cup (250ml) evaporated milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon chopped mint, fresh or dried
Croutons to serve

Soak the peas overnight in water to cover. Drain, add the two quarts of water, ham and ham bone, onion and celery. Simmer slowly until the peas are perfectly soft (about three hours). Rub through sieve. Reheat, and just before serving, add the milk and seasoning. Serve with croutons.

The modern cook may prefer to puree all—or some—of the soup in a blender rather than rubbing through a sieve, which requires quite a bit of elbow grease. You will take the ham bone out first though right? Get all the lovely tasty bits of meat off the bone, put those back in the soup and find a doggie to donate the bone to.


I don’t bother soaking the split peas—maybe the modern ones are less tough? Some say you should pick over them, checking for any duds, though I’ve never spotted any. Touch wood. I make this overnight in my slow cooker/crockpot using less water (1.5 liters). It’s so easy, utterly delicious, and as we say here in the UK, it’s a dish that is “as cheap as chips.”


If you are going to be spending a day in the kitchen keeping an eye on your split pea soup, you could get some of Bette’s Boston Baked Beans on the go too. In 1940 Bette told Photoplay magazine that she loved the traditional foods of her native New England and often served them to an intimate group of friends at her Sunday night dinner parties. She furnished the magazine with a few of her favorite recipes including this one:

Bette Davis’ Boston Baked Beans

1 quart (900g) pea beans and/or navy beans
Small onion, minced / chopped (optional)
1/2 pound (225g) fat salt pork
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup (160g) molasses
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 cup (235ml) boiling water

First step: Wash beans and allow them to soak overnight in cold water to cover. Second step: In the morning, drain and cover with fresh water.  Cook slowly—just below the boiling point—until skins will burst. (This is determined by taking a few beans on a spoon and blowing on them gently.  When skins of these beans will break and curl back then the rest of the beans are sufficiently cooked.) Third step: Fill bean pot with cooked beans. Some people also like to add a small onion, minced fine, at this point.

Bette enjoys ham biscuits with her tea in an ad for Bisquick in 1935's "Front Page Woman."

Bette enjoys ham biscuits with her tea in an ad for Bisquick in 1935’s “Front Page Woman.”


Pour boiling water over the salt pork, scrape the rind until it is white, then score deeply at half-inch intervals. Press pork down into beans so that only the rind is exposed. Combine salt, molasses and mustard. Add the boiling water. Pour this mixture over the beans and add enough water so that beans are just covered. Cover bean pot tightly and bake beans in slow oven (300°F/150°C) for eight hours. If necessary, add a little water (boiling) during baking period so that the beans will not get too dry. Uncover pot during last hour to brown the pork. Serve in the pot in which they were cooked.

Unsure what to serve with your baked beans?  Well, in the Photoplay article in which this recipe appeared, Bette said she liked her beans with traditional brown bread. That sounds good to me.

Bette and Olivia de Havilland dining out.

Bette and Olivia de Havilland dining out.



Can’t quite believe that one of megastar Bette Davis’ favorite things to eat was Boston Baked Beans? Well, in 1940, when Bette was at the height of her fame, the Reading Eagle issued this newsflash:

Baked Beans for Bette

Boston, March 16—Actress Bette Davis, a New Englander from away back, still loves good New England food.

So 21 pounds of baked beans and fresh scrod left Boston by plane so Bette can have fishcakes and beans at a party in Hollywood tonight.

Scrod is apparently a young fish (such as cod or haddock), so while your beans are bubbling away in the oven, why not make some fishcakes to go with them? With split pea soup to start with, you’ll be having a marvelous fall feast, Bette Davis style.

Jenny Hammerton headshot
Jenny Hammerton is a film archivist with a nosey parker interest in what the stars of Hollywood Golden era liked to eat and drink.  She’s been scribbling away about film star recipes for around eight years at Silver Screen Suppers
 and her bulging collection of film star favorites now numbers over 5500.  When not cooking and writing, Jenny works with the British Movietone newsreel collection for the AP Archive in London, and DJs on a wind-up gramophone with The Shellac Sisters.

One thought on “Eat Like the Stars: Bette Davis’ Split Pea Soup and Boston Baked Beans

  1. I love, love love all the photos you have chosen of Bette, and Ringo (the pooch) will be thrilled to have found fame at last… I just wanted to point out to readers that the book Bette’s soup recipe appeared in was not the Hotel Del Monte book, published I think in 1936. This is a fine book to have in any collection but it only features a couple of film stars, and not La Davis. The split pea soup recipe is from a different book with the same name, published earlier in 1933 by the Cook Printing Co, Austin, Texas. This one is packed to the rafters with movie greats, if you ever see a copy, snap it up!

    Enjoy sprinkling stardust around your kitchen! Jenny x

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