Both Will and Jonathan have been keeping busy releasing music since this interview in 2007. Jonathan left Okkervil River in 2008 to focus on Shearwater and other projects. In 2020, Okkervil River released a live album, “A Dream in the Dark: Twenty Years of Okkervil River Live” and Jonathan published his first book, A Most Remarkable Creature. I had somehow forgotten that they contributed two really great recipes! I need to give them a try.
Okkervil River has been putting out albums, touring endlessly, and growing steadily in popularity since 1998. Will is a master songwriter and lyricist with a penchant for the melancholy. Jonathan divides his time between Okkervil River and his other band, Shearwater. Their recent release, The Stage Names is one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2007 (and my personal favorite of the year! I was happy to hear them a little more raw and rockin’). When not touring, Okkervil River is based in Austin, TX.
About the interview
I think it’s cute that this is the first time Will and Jonathan had been in a limo. I’m sure it won’t be the last!
Cambridge, MA (Middle East Down)
Split Pea Soup
“I make this soup often – simple, really cheap, and easy, and I’ve been eating it since childhood.”
“Serves at least 6. Hearty, filling, and good for you, too. Tastes like North Carolina.”
“Some people add ginger, but i’m not that big a fan.
I’m also not quite sure how you’d make a vegetarian version of this soup, as the ham is so important to the flavor – but I’d imagine that the right combination of spices could work wonders; and its creamy, rich texture wouldn’t suffer.”
“My mother used to buy a whole uncooked ham (cheap!), bake it in the oven, and then we’d eat ham sandwiches etc for a couple of days. Then, when we’d eaten the best parts, she’d put the whole ham in the pot with the other ingredients while the soup was cooking, and, when it was nearly done, remove the ham from the soup, trim off some choice bits to add to the soup and throw the rest away. You could pretty much get a ham to last all week that way.”
- 1 bag dried, split green peas.
- 3 carrots
- 3 stalks celery
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 ready-to-cook center-cut ham steak
- Chop celery, carrots, onion into very small pieces and set aside.
- Trim fat from ham steak, cut into largeish pieces for convenience, and place in soup pot. Fry the ham for 3 mins on each side (no butter or oil is necessary)
- Add split peas, carrots, celery, and onion to pot, along with 1 quart of water.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
- Simmer half-covered, stirring occasionally, until soup is thick and creamy – I think a little thinner than oatmeal is about right. (This always takes a little longer than you’d like…sometimes 90 mins or so. Don’t wait until you’re hungry to start making this). If it gets too thick, add water. Too thin? simmer a little longer.
- Remove ham pieces from soup, cut into smaller pieces, and return to soup.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
Vegan Worcestershire Sauce
Will Sheff: “I reverse-engineered (read: basically stole) this recipe from a great place in Brooklyn called Marlow and Sons. Their version of it is one of my favorite desserts ever and I spent a few botched tries sometime last winter trying to figure out how the whole thing worked. I still don’t know precisely how they do theirs, but after many attempts and failures and discouragement and redoubled efforts this is what I came up with, which tastes pretty similar to me and which I like just as much.”
“If you’ve never made caramel before that’s the tricky part because while you’re cooking it can be hard to tell what consistency (and toughness) this molten sugar-water is going to thicken into once cooled. It took a couple tries for me to develop the requisite zen-like calm needed to assess when to remove the caramel from the heat, but gradually I discovered that for me five minutes after you add the cream and the butter etc seems about right. The finished tart is a great mixture of crunchy cookie crust and ludicrously rich chocolate-and-caramel, and the sea salt is like a surprising exclamation point at the end of everything.”
Chocolate cookie crust
- 2 cups crushed chocolate cookies (I often use chocolate Teddy Grahams because you kind find them lots of places, but basically any not-overly sweet simple chocolate cookie is gonna work)
- 3/4 cup melted butter
- 1 1/2 cup sugar
- 2/3 cup water
- 2/3 cup whipping cream
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 3/4 cup whipping cream
- 6 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Combine the cookie crumbs and butter in a medium bowl and mix well. Press the crumb and butter mixture firmly and evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie or tart pan. Bake for 8 minutes. Set aside and cool before filling.
- Stir the sugar and 1/3 cup water in a heavy medium saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves.
- Increase the heat and boil until the syrup is an amber color – swirling the pan occasionally and brushing down the sides with a wet pastry brush – about 8 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Add the cream, butter, vanilla and salt (the mixture will bubble up).
- Return the pan to very low heat; stir until the caramel is smooth and the color deepens, about 5 minutes. Refrigerate the caramel uncovered until cold but not firm – about 20 minutes – before pouring into the crust to fill it a little more than halfway.
(This recipe may make slightly more caramel than is called for, depending on the size of your pie pan. If you want, once it cools slightly you can pour any excess on wax paper to cut into caramels.)
- Bring the cream to boil in a heavy small saucepan. Add the chocolate and whisk together until smooth.
- Fill the rest of the pie or tart crust with the chocolate filling. In the end, you want slightly more caramel than chocolate in the tart.
Refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes.
Just before you serve the tart, sprinkle the top of it with a dusting of sea salt to taste. Not sure how to measure this – a little bit more than you might think and a little bit less than what seems gross? Make sure you use a coarsely-ground sea salt (but not too thick and crunchy). Added bonus for different sizes of flakes, which looks nice and makes the flavor more complex. I use Halen Môn, which is a wonderful sea salt from Wales (I suspect that the name just means “sea salt” in Welsh?), sliced into very thin, wide flakes.