Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold. Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old.
Thanks to the playful chants of the children’s nursery rhyme, we are familiar with the term ‘pease porridge’, but do most of us really know what this is? A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition (Oxford University Press) explains pease porridge as: ‘An [English] dish prepared from dried peas which are soaked, boiled, mashed, and sieved, traditionally served with baked ham’.
In fact, pease porridge is one of the oldest known dishes in the English culinary repertoire. Mushy peas, and indeed peas generally, were on the menu in many of the cafes and pubs we visited across the UK. It seems to me that one either loves them or hates them. I quite enjoy mushy peas, whereas my County Durham born Peter says a firm ‘no thank you’.
While modern recipes call for the use of dried split peas, pease porridge was originally made from dried peas still in their shells. According to Theodora Fitzgibbon in A Taste of London (J.M. Dent & Sons, 1973), ‘By the nineteenth century [the dish] was known as ‘pease pudding’ and was sold hot by street traders, from a heavy tin pot wrapped around with a thick cloth to retain the heat.’
There are numerous receipts for pease porridge or pudding, with variations ranging from plain mashed peas to the full-on slow cooked pudding version. Of the latter, one of the simplest comes from the late Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright in Two Fat Ladies (ABC Books, 1997). In an introduction to the recipe (which I’ve reproduced below), Clarissa wrote ‘I love pease pudding with ham or boiled bacon or indeed any old thing. It is as old as our history.’ As the nursery rhyme indicates, leftover pease pudding can be fried and eaten cold.
Other fresher versions of mushy peas include a quick ‘mush’ of cooked frozen peas, which are served atop a lamb back strap with pine nuts and Persian feta (curiously, my Peter actually enjoys them served this way). I love Jamie Oliver’s fresh and simple minted mushy peas. For this you cook a medium-sized potato, as well as cooking a 500g bag of frozen peas. Drain, and then combine the two in a food processor with half a bunch of fresh mint. Whizz to a puree, and then season to taste with salt and pepper before serving.
I’ll be writing more about peas in an upcoming article and sharing fresh and delicious recipes for dishes inspired by our travels, so if peas are a favourite food for you, please stay tuned.
PEASE PUDDING – A LA TWO FAT LADIES
1.1kg split peas, soaked overnight
2 free-range egg yolks
sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
Tie the peas loosely in a muslin cloth and boil in a pan with ham stock for one and a half hours. Remove the bag from the pan and press the peas through a sieve or mouli. Return to a pan. Dry the mixture over a gentle heat until it is thick. Stir in the butter and egg yolks. Then season well with salt and pepper, before serving with fish and chips, fish pie, roast meat or grilled steak.
Tell me dear readers, where do you stand on the topic of mushy peas? And are peas a favourite food for you?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
Join me as I share with you my favourite recipes, postcards and morsels from my adventures, conversations with cookery writers
and chefs, and news on food and cooking.
Search by topic
NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.