Saturday, 26 April 2008

Pease pudding hot

The theme of Retro Recipe Challenge this month is ‘Your Mother should know: recipes that were popular before your Mother was born’, and it’s hosted by Stephanie from Dispensing Happiness. I had to give it a go, really, especially since I failed to enter Stephanie’s cocktail event this month (I planned to; I even had something in mind, but it never managed to happen. I’m sorry). Food and history is a dangerous combination for me though because I take it too seriously. This should have been quite a straightforward idea, but no, I had to exercise my poor brain to distraction over it. Did it mean something Munchkin Granny would never have eaten at all? Something we don’t eat any more? Something her parents would have eaten (complicated, because they were originally German, then English, now Israeli)? In the end I decided to avoid the whole issue, and also thereby spare disclosing a lady’s age, and dive further back in time to my alter era: the eighteenth century.

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


Johanna said...

Thanks for a great history lesson, - and I was impressed you followed a recipe from the 1700s. I find that so many are full of meat but I guess even if I ate meat, they would have had a different sort of meat than is eaten today. Your mush looks good workhouse food but good comfort food too!

LisaRene said...

Wow, that is a "retro recipe"!

You'll appreciate this, I learned the rhyme as pease porridge not pease pudding. I just asked my husband (who is a lot older then me) and he also learned it as pease porridge. Interesting how the basic rhyme has continued in America and remained the same except to exchange the word pudding for porridge. I wonder how the rhyme will change in the next generations?

Your have me curious now and I looked up "pease pudding" and Wikipedia equated it as "similar in texture to a hummus and is light yellow in colour, with a mild taste."

Excellent submission to Retro Recipe Challenge!

Lysy said...

I love reading eighteenth-century recipes as they're just so different from ours in so many ways! They're generally for enormous quantities, use tons of eggs and butter, and are wonderfully imprecise! And you rarely know what you're actually making compared with modern dishes - like the words pudding, porridge and pottage. I wasn't quite sure if I knew the dish as pease pudding or pease pottage, but I read that they all morphed into what we call porridge, so I think we're all correct!

You're right on the texture, Lisa - it was very similar to hummus, and some recipes called for mashing or pureeing it which would make it even more so.