Food stories pop up in the most surprising places, and today’s source will, I am sure, yield future delights for us. It is A Collection of Old English Customs: And Curious Bequests and Charities, Extracted from the Reports Made by the Commissioners for Enquiring Into Charities in England and Wales (1842.)
The story today is about a bequest made in 1554 which was still being honoured almost three hundred years later, when the book was published.
Bequest of White Peas.
John Huntingtdon of Sawson, Cambridgeshire, England, by will, dated 4th August, 1554, devised lands and tenements to Joice his wife, and his heirs, upon condition that his heirs should yearly forever sow two acres of land, lying together in Linton field, with white peas, one coomb to be yearly bestowed upon each acre, for the relief of the people of Sawston.
Two acres, the property of Richard Huddlestone, Esq., the lord of the several manors in the parish, are annually sowed with white peas, as directed by the will, which are gathered green on a day fixed by the occupier of the land, by all the poor indiscriminately, with an complete scene of scramble and confusion ensues, attended with occasional conflicts.
I am not at all certain what ‘white peas’ indicated in 1554, but hope one of you will enlighten me and thereby help me maintain the illusion of control over my list of Things to Investigate. I presume they were a pulse grown primarily for drying and using in pottages and the like.
Todays’ recipe is for White Peas Soup – made from old green peas plus fresh green peas, which sounds odd until you get to the end of the recipe. It does sound delicious.
White Peas Soup.
Put four or five pounds of lean beef into six quarts of water, with a little salt, and as soon as it boils take off the scum. Put in three quarts of old green peas, two heads of celery, a little thyme, three onions and two carrots. Boil them till the meat be quite tender, then strain it through a hair sieve, and rub the pulp of the peas through the sieve. Split the blanched part of three cos-lettuces into four quarters, and cut them about an inch long, with a little mint cut small. Then put half a pound of butter in a stewpan large enough to hold your soup, and put the lettuce and mint into the butter, with a leek sliced very thin, and a pint of green peas. Strew them a quarter of an hour and shake them frequently, Then put in a little of the soup, and stew them a quarter of an hour longer. Then put in your soup, as much thick cream as will make it white, and keep stirring it till it boils. Fry a French roll a little crisp in butter, put it at the bottom of your tureen, and pour over it your soup.
The London Art of Cookery, by John Farley (1783)
What about the tender beef?
Hello Baydog: I wondered that myself! Recipe-writing was an inexact science back then, with many instructions assuming a certain knowledge. I suspect the meat was kept aside for another dish - it would be difficult to make a white soup with a lot of pureed beef in it, and I suspect the recipe would have been called Beef and Peas Soup.
Maybe another reader can comment on a question I had about the white peas. In older cookbooks, that term often meant dried yellow peas, which were used for different recipes than the dried green peas were. English cookbooks detailing Indian foods used it that way, as well. Perhaps "white" is a comparative term, just as they used to use "black" to describe a deep suntan?
Fresh peas are all pretty much shades of green, but when dry different varieties may have different colours. Some remain green, some dry to a tan or buff colour, some (few) are brownish, or speckled with purple. There are also some, usually older varieties, which dry to very pale green, almost off white. My guess is that white peas would have been one of those varieties. In other words, just what they said!
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