Everyone knows the nursery rhyme:
‘Pease porridge hot,
Pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in a pot,
Nine days old…’
Nowadays however, this is not the common dish that the rhyme might suggest it once was. Since Iron Age Europe (and probably before) legumes of all varieties have been a staple of the diet. Indeed variations and near-cousins to the British Pease Pudding, can be found in Germany, Austria and some parts of France as Erbspüree, in Greece as Fava and in some parts of China as Wandouhuang (豌豆黄).
I take a particular interest in this dish for two reasons. Firstly, from some delightful years that I spent in County Durham, where Pease Pudding can still be found on many-a-menu & secondly, from growing up very near the village of Pease Pottage in Sussex. Pottage is the late-Middle English word for Porridge and whether we are talking about Pease Pudding, Pease Pottage or Pease Porridge, it is essentially the same thing.
Pease Pottage in Sussex (now better known for its motorway service station off the M23, than the lovely little village behind it) reputedly gets its name from being a place where weary travellers could buy a hearty bowl of the dish to help them on the journey from London to the South Coast. I love to imagine an old widow, famous in the area for her steaming dishes, selling bowls from her thatched cottage window. When I think of how this imaginary widow’s house might have looked, I always imagine Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread shop in Grasmere, which sits right next to Wordsworth’s grave (in fact, as a near-Horsham native, I should definitely do classic old-fashioned Gingerbread soon…)
The oldest recipe I could find for Pease Pudding or something very similar was from the 14th Century English Court cookbook Form of Cury:
Take and seeþ [white] pesoun and take oute þe perry; & perboile erbis & hewe hem grete, & cast hem in a pot with the perry. Pulle oynouns & seeþ hem hole wel in water, & do hem to þe perry with oile & salt; colour it with safroun & messe it, and cast þeron powdour douce.
later Medieval versions begin to introduce the now-traditional Ham Hock stock into the making of a good Pease Pudding. It the North-East of England, Pease Pudding is often served on bread, or with good boiled Ham Hock on the side. It can also often be found alongside black pudding as part of a great breakfast.
‘Powdour douce’ means ‘sweet powder’ and is essentially a mix (each cook had his own variety) of sweet herbs such as cinnamon, mace, clove, nutmeg. Sugar was, at the time of the Forme of Cury, incredibly expensive, so this sated a slightly sweet tooth, or took the edge off the bitterness that poor pease pudding can sometimes have.
Figgy Pudding’s Recipe…
This version takes the essential elements of the Form of Cury recipe (maintaining saffron as the ‘secret’ ingredient) and – having taken some tips from a few Sunderland-based butchers who sell Pease Pudding over their counters in pots – I have taken the liberty of adding the Ham Hock stock and a few bits of the meat.
1 Ham Hock (this is the knuckle part of the pig; they are generally all around the same size).
1 x large onions
2 x sticks of celery
1 x bouquet garni (traditionally 3 sprigs of parsley, 2 sprigs of thyme, 1 bay leaf)
500g yellow split peas
pinch of saffron
glug of olive oil
1/4 teaspoon of sugar
half a pinch of nutmeg
There is firstly some preparation to do. You need to have soaked your yellow split peas overnight before you use them. Do this well in advance of starting the recipe. You also need to put your ham in a bowl and cover in cold water for at least 2 hours (preferably 6) – in fact, why not overnight too, so you can start the recipe in the morning?
When soaking is complete (this takes off the excess salt that everyone needs gone from their diet nowadays), drain the water, place the ham in a large pan, cover with fresh water and bring to the boil.
When the boiling point is reached, throw one roughly chopped onion and all the roughly chopped celery into the water. Also add the bouquet garni. Leave to simmer for 2-3 hours (in which you can phone your mum, feed the cat, read the newspaper & start that novel you’ve always been meaning to write…), until the meat is about to fall off the bone.
Sieve the stock to remove all the onion, celery, herbs and keep the stock liquid safe. Leave you ham hock to cool.
Now take your soaked split peas and drain them. Put the peas into a large saucepan and cover with 1.5 litres of the ham hock stock (if you don’t have 1.5l, make the rest up with water). Add a few little trimmings of the meat itself into the pot (by little I mean around 10 pieces the size of a fingertip) and also add the pinch of saffron. Bring to the boil (scooping off the very worst of the rising foam…don’t worry most will disappear when you simmer) and simmer for 1 hour with the lid on (in which time you can finish that novel you started…). Don’t forget to stir thoroughly at around 30 and 45 minutes to stop the peas sticking to the bottom of the pan.
When the peas are cooked and look like they are about to fall apart, remove them from the heat and leave to cool for a little bit. When they are cool enough, put them in a blender (or really beat hard by hand) alongside a little dribble of olive oil (some recipes add a beaten egg here) and blend until smooth. Season with a little nutmeg and sugar.
Serve with slices of ham hock meat, warm or cold. Equally, this is great as a snack on bread, the good old-fashioned way!
Tip: If your mixture is too runny after blending (it should be a thick-ish paste, like good hummus), then put it into an oven proof dish and pop in the oven for 30-40 minutes (you can re-heat the ham at the same time).
This is really lovely. It took me back to a great pub lunch I once had in Durham city centre. From the ham hock you get more than enough meat for 2 adults to have slices (and still enough left over for a carbonara the next day).
The pease pudding cooks enough for a small army, or for 6 adults to have a portion; I’ve decided to have some now and keep a dish for later in the week (apparently it is even yummier a day or two…perhaps 9!…days old).
Now, I didn’t choose to add an egg to my recipe, as my lunch is going to be Pease Pudding, poached egg, ham hock and buttered bread. Anyone care to join me…?