Thursday, 4 September 2008

......the man who ininvented the wheel?

British food has long been characterised by our love of over cooked vegetables.
The joke we tell against ourselves is that housewives begin boiling their Christmas dinner brussels sprouts just as presents were opened first thing in the morning. The boiled sprouts would be ready for the sprouts to be eaten early afternoon.

Our love of the soggy veg is diminishing, but there remains one last soggy accompaniment: mushy peas.

Marrowfat peas or processed peas as they are sold, are different to fresh green peas. They are reconstituted from dried peas and then boiled. In their dried form they were ideal for storing through the winter and provided a good source of cheap, stored protein in days before freezing and refrigeration.

Dried peas were carried on ships to feed the crew and are still popular in the north of England.

Pease pudding sees the cooked peas mixed with egg and left to cool. It makes a firm savoury dish to accompany vegetables. It was a staple of the poor who could not afford meat.

For many years, the process of producing marrowfat peas in tins left a by product: mushy peas. The peas went soggy, lost shape and were used as animal fodder with no value. It was only in the 1970's that processing companies realised the demand for tinned mushy peas and began to market them. They now sell more mushy peas than processed.

In Nottingham, mushy peas with mint sauce are still a favourite at our annual Goose Fair, celebrated each year at the beginning of October.

In northern Britain, they are a necessary accompaniment to fried fish and chips - our national dish.

Of course, most people buy them reconstituted and cooked with green colouring added.

This year we have grown our own marrowfat peas and here they are, drying. It is years since I have soaked and cooked marrowfat peas. Greengrocers used to sell bags of soaked peas along with bicarbonate of soda tablets in which the peas would boil.

From starting the soaking process to eating would have taken hours. Nowadays we just reach for a tin, open it, microwave for a minute and hey presto.

Of, course, I'm travelling in the opposite direction! When mushy peas are on the menu, I will need half a days notice. I feel like the man who uninvented the wheel!

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