Is this why they call it hard water?

I don’t remember ever hearing about hard water when I was growing up. That’s not surprising, now that I look at this map comparing water hardness in different regions of the country. It wasn’t until I went to college, and began meeting people from other parts of the country, especially the midwest, that I heard of the problems with hard water (which I initially got confused with heavy water, which is something quite different).

When we moved to the midwest, I started learning about it firsthand. Our house had a water softener, which I learned that we had to keep supplied with salt. I didn’t understand why we wanted salt in our water, but I was busy coping with a new house, new job, new church, and a new baby on the way, and I didn’t really care how the water softener worked as long as it did.

Eventually I came to recognize the difference in feel between hard and soft water (at least when bathing), and knew when the water softener had run out of salt even without looking inside. I wondered sometimes just how necessary a water softener was, as I lugged the heavy bags to the basement and calculated how much I was spending on them.

Then we moved here, to a house with no water softener. I soon learned that no amount of cleaning was going to leave my glasses sparkling. I don’t much care about sparkling glasses (especially as we use mostly plastic), but after a while the mineral deposits get rather noticeable. I discovered that if you let them go too long, they may be permanent.

There’s no money in the budget for a water softener, though, so I put up with the hard water, and with the stains. It wasn’t until this weekend, though, that I realized it could interfere with my cooking.

I have always loved yellow split pea soup. When we lived closer to Canada, I could buy Habitant pea soup, though it was quite expensive. Here I just don’t find it. I’ve tried in the past to make my own, from dried split yellow peas, but it didn’t turn out well. I had read on another blog that cooking it in a slow cooker worked well, so I decided to give it one more shot.

Split peas shouldn’t need to soak, but it can reduce cooking time, plus I had whey left over from making yogurt, and one of the recommended uses was for soaking beans or making soup. So I soaked the peas all afternoon and evening and through the night. I added more water and put the slow cooker on low while we went to church.

I checked them when we got home. Still hard. I turned the slow cooker to high, and waited a few hours. Still hard, despite all the bubbling. I put them back on low, and left them on all night, just to see if it made a difference. By morning they were turning brownish, but not much softer. The (very brown) water went in the sink, the rest of the mess in the trash.

As I washed dishes tonight, the brown stains on the counter reminded me of the problems with the hard water. Could that make my peas hard, I wondered? Sure enough, hard water is a problem when cooking beans. And apparently adding baking soda is not the answer. Using bottled water would work, though it goes against my thrifty nature to have to buy water for cooking (especially when my main reason to use dried beans is to save money).

If I want some split yellow pea soup, however, that may be my answer. And next time my husband wants to make his hot chili, I’ll have to let him know why the last batch may not have come out quite right.


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