1. In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over high heat. Add onions, carrots, garlic, and celery and saute until vegetables begin to brown, about 6 minutes.
2. Add ham hocks, chopped ham, bay leaves and water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 2 - 2 1/2 hours or until the ham is very tender.
3. Remove the ham hocks and bones. Shred meat into bite-sized pieces and return meat to stock. Discard bones, fat and gristle.
4. Add split peas and thyme. Simmer uncovered 1 hour 20 minutes or until peas dissolve and thicken soup.
5. Remove bay leaves. Serve with croutons.
Additional Notes: Soup may be refrigerated for several days or frozen.
Soup tends to be a bit salty depending on the ham you use. If you have really salty ham you may want to add a potato or two (chopped into bite size pieces) about an hour before the soup is finished.
I use playtex gloves for handling the hot ham bones and shredding the meat so I don't have to wait for it to cool down.
My family dislikes onions and celery so I leave the pieces particularly large and remove them when I remove the ham bones.