"The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea In a beautiful pea-green boat ." -- By Edward Lear

PEA-GREEN. The color of my mother's soup. Never can hear that poem without thinking of it. While other mothers were nurturing their children toward adulthood on chicken soup, mine was simmering split pea. Chunks of top rib, carrots, celery and onion floated in that soup. Never was it eaten with a "runcible spoon" either. Rather, this soup was so thick that at times we delved into it with a knife and fork.

Better the second and third time around, too. Reheated, we sometimes added hot dogs, and water to make it more manageable. Kept away the cold, it did. Thinness too. No trouble keeping your weight up on this soup. Cheap too, when you think of it as a main meal. Besides, we ate the leftovers for breakfast and lunch.

In the days before can openers and appetizers, every cook's repertoire was full of soups, and those soups were full of character. It was an art, preparing good, wholesome soups, improved with whatever leftovers struck the cook's fancy.

The more I think of it, the more I realize what a domestic work of art my mother's soup became. And, as with all works of art, it has its professional secrets. Such as:

(1) Boil the top rib first and skim off the scum

(2) Just rinse the peas, don't soak them.

(3) For extra thickness, add a little barley

(4) Scrape carrots, don't peel them

(5) Include celery tops

In hot weather, of course, this version loses some of its luster. So we omit the meat and serve it cold. Voila, summer pea soup -- a lighter version of our favorite winter soup.

Since peas are known to have almost as much protein as meat, it might be safe to venture that my mother's soup is every bit as healthy as the extolled chicken kind. Certainly, we thought it twice as good. Without a doubt, it is more than twice as thick. w

So how come pea soup isn't more famous? Possibly due to its low status hundreds of years ago. In England, during the late 1600s, says the World Book Encylopedia, "green peas seem to have been considered a very low form of food."

Things are looking up, though. In many restaurants pea soup is upgraded into Potage St. Germaine and heightened with a soupcon of sherry. But it is still pea soup. Thank goodness. MY MOTHER'S PEA SOUP 2 quarts water 1 pound top rib or flank* 2 stalks of celery and 3 tops 1 medium onion, cut up 2 carrots, diced 1-pound package split peas 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Bring meat and water to a rapid boil and skim off the scum, continuing to boil and skim for 10 minutes. Turn down heat and add vegetables. Wash split peas and add to pot with seasonings. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. After 1/2 hour, taste to correct seasoning.

*Note: Omit the meat and serve chilled for summer pea soup. QUICK CHILLED PEA SOUP (4 servings) 2 cups fresh peas or 10-ounce package frozen peas 2 cups shredded lettuce 13-ounce can chicken broth 1/3 cup water 1/4 cup tomato juice 1/4 cup finely chopped green onion 1 teaspoon snipped parsley 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon white pepper 1/4 teaspoon crushed dried thyme 1 tablespoon parsley 1/2 cup whipping cream

In saucepan combine peas, lettuce, broth, water, tomato juice, green onion, 1 teaspoon parsley, salt, pepper and thyme. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat, simmer covered 20 minutes. Cool slightly. Pour into blender or food processor. Cover and blend until smooth. Stir in whipping cream and garnish with 1 tablespoon parsley. Cover and chill.