I settled on pease pudding. I’ve never eaten it, and only recently found out what it actually is – boiled split peas (sounds attractive, doesn’t it??). It’s a very old recipe and a very English one, so I thought it fitted the ‘before your mother’ theme pretty well. It dates much further back than that though, and was originally called a pease pottage or porridge, which was just something made in a pot. It was also a food very commonly served in eighteenth-century workhouses, which is one of my research specialisms, so I was keen to find out what the people I study were eating The blog event instructions said that the actual recipe had to be from before your mother’s birth, so I (ab)used my access to eighteenth-century documents online and went right back to the source.
I found a wonderful book published in 1798 by one Eliza Melroe called An economical and new method of cookery describing upwards of eighty cheap, wholesome and nourishing dishes…with new and useful observations on rice, barley, pease, oatmeal and milk, and the numerous dishes they afford, adapted to the necessity of the times, equally in all ranks of society. What a promise! Unfortunately her pease puddings had meat in them (it was often served with bacon, apparently), so I plumped for one in Elizabeth Cleland’s A new and easy method of cookery of 1759 instead, which was very simple and included a few extra vegetables I’ve given her recipe below but I did adapt it a little. I scaled it back considerably for one thing (I used about a cup of peas and probably ended up with more like 2 ½ cups of water as I added more as it simmered), and I added a chopped carrot with the peas at the start (I didn’t have a leek). I also didn’t bother with the flour or the butter as it was quite a satisfyingly thick and wholesome panful already, but I did flavour it a bit more – I nixed the mint although it’s traditional, as it’s not a herb I like very much, and added marjoram, thyme and caraway seeds as they all seemed like very auldy English seasonings. Don't you love Mrs Cleland's instructions though: 'boil til they are enough'!
The product: good hearty wholesome English stodge. With the extra flavourings it was very nice, though I imagine that the butter would also have enriched it in its own particular way. A lot of the other recipes I’ve found do use meat, so I don’t really know what taste my workhouse people would have experienced. It would have been cheaper without meat, of course, but if you’re cooking for a lot of people, I suppose that adding just a bit of meat is a good way to add flavour. Workhouses weren’t the punitive places of Oliver Twist yet in the eighteenth century, although I’d hardly argue that they were nice places to stay, but they certainly did buy meat for their inmates, and often grew vegetables as well. Workhouse officials were very keen on publicising their dietaries so we know a lot about what inmates ate. Pease pudding was something that featured at least once a week in many places, and of course it’s also memorialised in that old nursery rhyme: ‘Pease pudding hot, pease pudding cold, pease pudding in the pot nine days old.’ Well, I had it hot the night I made it; I kept the rest to have cold for lunch; but I’m not so keen on the nine days old part. I think that’s a tradition I’ll leave in the eighteenth century.
Pease pudding (from Elizabeth Cleland’s A new and easy method of cookery, 1759)
To make Pease Pottage
Take two Quarts of Pease, put them into three Quarts of Water, season it pretty high with Pepper and Salt, boil them till they are enough, mix a Spoonful of Flour with Water, and put in a little Mint, a Leek, two Handfuls of Spinage, all cut small; put in Half a Pound of Butter, boil it and dish it
NB, As far as I can make out, an imperial quart is 2 (British) pints