For anyone with true English blood in their veins, the topics of ‘marrow’ and ‘marrowfat’ over the previous two days should inevitably have caused the mind to wander to thoughts of marrowfat peas – the source of that essential accompaniment to both hot chips and pies - mushy peas!
Today I celebrate the marrowfat pea and its mush.
Essentially, the marrowfat pea is one of several types of garden pea which has been allowed to mature and dry on the plant until the peas are large and the pods are wrinkled. The peas require soaking overnight after which they may be used in soup, or cooked until mushy and served, as mentioned, as a side-dish.
Reading around this topic made me realise how many varieties of garden pea have been developed, and how many of these appear to have been lost to the great ideals of commercial food production. In the early nineteenth century in An Encyclopedia of Gardening (London, 1824) the author, John Claudius Loudon, had this to say about the number of varieties of pea then commonly grown in British gardens:
The pea is a hardy annual, … it was not very common, however, in [Queen] Elizabeth’s time, when, as Fuller informs us, peas were brought from Holland, and were “fit dainties for ladies, they came so far, and cost so dear.” … The use of the pea is familiar in cookery. In one variety, called the sugar-pea … the inner film of the pods is wanting; and such pods, when young, are frequently boiled with the seeds or peas within them, and eaten in the manner of kidney beans. This variety is comparatively new, having been introduced in about the middle of the 17th century. … The varieties of the pea are numerous: the principal are –
Early Charlton; an excellent early sort nearly equal to the genuine frame.
Early golden Charlton.
Early Nichol’s golden Charlton.
Reading Hotspur; long pods
Dwarf marrowfat: large, long pods.
Tall marrowfat; most large, long pods.
Green marrowfat, Patagonian.
Knight’s wrinkled, or marrow, a white-blossomed, tall, luxuriant grower; the fruit of excellent flavour, cream-colored and shriveled when ripe and dried.
Spanish moratto; largish.
Prussian blue; great bearer.
White rouncival; large, fine pods.
Green rouncival; ditto.
Grey rouncival; ditto.
Tall sugar; large, crooked pods.
Crown, or rose; of tall, strong growth; producing its blossom and fruit in a bunchy tuft at top.
Leadman’s dwarf: a great bearer, but of small pods; good for a latter crop, or as required for succession.
Spanish dwarf; of low growth, small pod.
Early dwarf frame; for forcing.
Nanterre, or earliest French pea.
So, pea-growers of the world, how many of these do you know or grow?
The recipe for the day should by rights be for mushy peas, but a recipe is hardly needed: all you need to do is soak the peas overnight, boil them till mushy, add just enough salt, and serve with a drizzle of malt vinegar, alongside your chips [fries, if you must] or pie. In other words, this is a rather lumpy form of pease pudding - for which I have, in fact, previously given a recipe [here.]
Here is a posh, Frenchified version of mushy peas or pease pudding:
PURÉE OF DRIED PEAS.
Take two quarts of peas; soak them twelve hours in warm water; put them into a saucepan with one pound of bacon, two carrots, two onions, a few cloves, a bunch of parsley, chives, thyme, and a bay-leaf. When the peas are tender, pass them through a sieve, wetting them with a little of the liquor in which they were boiled; then put the puree into a saucepan, adding a little more of the same liquor; and boil it up.
All purées, when served with meat, are entremets. When purées are served alone, they should be accompanied by fried or toasted bread.
French Domestic Cookery (1846) by Louis-Eustache Audot.
Oh! Oh! Proud peaholic checking in! I'm growing 7 kinds of shelling peas, 2 kinds of snap peas, and 2 kinds of snow peas this year. Normally I would also grow 2 kinds of soup (drying) peas, but I'm giving them a rest (and I'm short of space, let's face it.)
The Crown pea is the only one I know by the name given. It's a lovely plant with striking blossoms but as peas they are frankly terrible.
Tall Sugar sounds very much like what I am growing under the name of Amish Snap pea.
Early Dwarf Frame would be related to another pea (actually group of peas) now known as Tom Thumb.
Dwarf Sugar? There is a Dwarf Grey Sugar, which sometime in the last few years seems to have stopped being dwarf and stretched out to 5 or 6 feet tall, although the seed catalogues have not admitted this yet.
Spanish Moratto I had never heard of, but apart from the "black eyes" it sounds very much like an obscure Canadian(ish?) variety I grow called Spanish Skyscraper. It is possible that Spanish Skyscraper was selected or bred out of it.
Peas are self-fertilizing (usually, but not always) but through selection or chance may (will!) change slightly over the years.
I am very excited to have found a cross between a modern variety called Dual and Spanish Skyscraper in my peas this year, and am saving the seed to grow out next year.
One might say that mushy peas have been around since before the 15th century. Here's an old recipe:
Perre (Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery Books, p. 83
Take grene pesyn, and boile hem in a potte; And whan they ben y-broke, drawe the broth a good quantite thorg a streynour into a potte, And sitte hit on the fire; and take oynons and parcelly, and hewe hem small togidre, And caste hem thereto; And take pouder of Canell and peper, and caste thereto, and lete boile; And take vynegur and pouder of ginger, and caste thereto; And then take Saffron and salte, a litull quantite, and caste thereto; And take faire peces of paynmain, or elles of such tendur brede, and kutte hit yn fere mosselles, and caste there-to; And then serue hit so forth.
General interpretation of the above:
* Boil the peas in a pot and when burst, push through a strainer into another pot on the fire.
* Chop onions and parsley small and add to pea “puree”.
* Add ground cinnamon and pepper to peas and let boil.
* Add vinegar and powdered ginger.
* Add a little saffron and a little salt.
Ferdzy, could you suggest a variety of basic sweet green pea that is very flavourful? I care less about prolific and hardy, and more about taste. A lot of the old varieties tasted so much better.
Janet, do you have, or know where I can find, a recipe for the old sort of pease pudding that you cook with onions in a cloth in a pot with simmering bits of ham or bacon, so it comes out in a huge lump? I can only find 'modern' recipes.
Will do, SometimesKate - is v easy. You simply put the dried peas in a muslin bag, leaving room for them to swell, tie it up and suspend it in a pot of stock (from a pork bone or ham bone if possible) and cook as long as it takes!
SometimesKate, what is available will depend on where you are. In general, I recommend tall peas that need trellising, because I think they have better flavour in general. But I also grow short peas, because they will produce much sooner, and intermediat peas, because they produce in the middle of the pea season. Cornell University has a wonderful site where gardeners can review their favourite vegetables. I suggest you browse through their pea reviews, with particular attention to peas you can actually get.
Beyond that, for short, early peas I like Strike; for next I suggest Lincoln Homesteader; Ne Plus Ultra is an earlier tall pea, Tall Telephone, AKA Alderman is also an excellent tall pea; Mrs. Van's and Spanish Skyscraper are superb, but they are both hard-to-find Canadian varieties. Spanish Skyscraper is very late, fairly heat tolerant, and if you don't eat them fresh make excellent dried peas that can substitute for chick peas, they are so large, yellow and solid.
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