Parched peas (Carlin Peas, Pigeon Peas)

Parched peas, Carlin Peas, do you remember them from your childhood?
Also known as Maple Peas, Brown Peas, Pigeon Peas and even Black badgers and Grey Badgers, are an ancient pea or marl, documented in the reign of Elizabeth 1.

They more or less originated in the gardens of the early Middle ages monasteries, when peas and beans formed a huge part of the staple diet. They grow to approximately six feet high, and display striking purple and white blossoms, and they crop profusely. The peas, which can be used fresh, or dried for winter use, have a unique flavour, often described as a mediaeval mushy pea.

Carlin peas are better known in the north of England, black peas are by tradition eaten in the Blackburn, Preston and Bolton areas of Lancashire just about the time of Bonfire/Halloween night and we used to get them at the various winter fairs. The preparation is a little different to most other methods, we will soak them for 24-48 hours, then simmer until they have gone mushy (adding salt during cooking stops them from softening), salt and vinegar is added just before eating.

Carlin Sunday used to be generally observed in and around Carlisle, back in the days when the State Management ran the local pubs. Regulars would be given Carlins, usually in a plastic cup, liberally covered with vinegar, salt and pepper. This is a favourite Cumbrian recipe of mine;
Soak the Carlins together with a ham shank overnight, rinse, fill the pot with clean water, bring to the boil, skim off any scum, add the chopped vegetables and allow to simmer as long as you like, remove the shank, remove the fat, chop up the meat and return to the pot.
The tradition has died out since the big breweries moved in, but if you try hard enough you’ll find Carlins in one or two pubs, I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like them!
In the Northeast traditionally children were given them to eat on Carlin Sunday, after a special church service, a little like Harvest Festival. In Nottingham the cooked peas were sold at the annual Goose Fair until the late fifties.

Here is a Geordie recipe for Carlin Peas;
Preparation Time is about three minutes, plus overnight soaking. Cooking Time is around 25 minutes
This recipe serve serves four people

½lb (200g) Carlin peas
Pinch of salt
1oz (25g) of beef dripping (or butter)
Some soft brown sugar (optional and not usually used in the North East)
A splash of rum (optional)

Soak the Carlin peas in cold water overnight. Drain and put them in a saucepan of boiling water with salt. Boil for approximately 20 minutes, or until cooked but not overdone or mushy.
Melt the beef dripping (or butter) in a frying pan, drain the Carlins and then add them to the pan and fry for two to three minutes.
Serve hot with salt, vinegar and pepper. Or you can leave them to cool for a tasty nibble later. Alternatively, while still hot, you can add the brown sugar and a drop or rum.

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