A North Eastern and Lancashire Speciality
It’s no surprise that quite often, the most plain and simple of foods (and ingredients) are revered and held in people’s memories; they are usually recipes that are associated with childhood, or from a native land, and this humble brown pea is one such thing. The “Carlin” is a pea that is grown at home in the British Isles, and evokes many heated discussions about its place in the modern culinary kitchen. Old fashioned and dour it may sound and look, but this pea is a prince among peas which boasts many names…..It can be known as “Carlin”, “Carling”, “Black or Grey Badger”, “Pigeon Peas”, Maple Peas, Brown or Black Peas and “Parched Peas”.
I grew up knowing what carlin peas were, as my mother’s side of the family originate from the North East, around Sunderland and West Hartlepool, whilst some of dad’s relations live in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Gateshead. My grandparents went on the live in Northumberland and County Durham, and I can remember these little brown peas with affection, as they often made an appearance on my grandmother’s old farmhouse kitchen table. They have quite a history these peas too, with tales of starvation, war and conflict being attributed to the regional popularity of these humble legumes.
The story, or legend goes something like this…..the people of Newcastle were saved from starvation after the town was besieged during the 1644 civil war, or some stories say during the Scottish siege under Robert the Bruce in 1327; legend has it that a French ship managed to dock in Newcastle the Sunday before Palm Sunday, bringing with it a cargo of “maple peas” aka Carlins, hence the name for Passion Sunday (the 5th Sunday in Lent and the Sunday before Palm Sunday) being Carlin or Carling Sunday. I understand that the name “carlins” or “carlings” is due to the fact that the peas look like rabbit droppings, which are called Carlings, but I have yet to substantiate that theory yet!
Today’s recipe is a simple one and is from the North East of England; it’s a recipe for fried carlins which are then served with salt, pepper and malt vinegar. Traditionally served in public houses (pubs) in newspaper cones, the peas are soaked overnight, boiled for an hour before being fried in butter…..you then season them to taste with salt, (white) pepper and vinegar and they are truly delicious served this way. Over in Lancashire, they are called Parched Peas, where they are served “parched” – which is a term for slow cooking or boiling, they are then served with seasoning and vinegar, as in the North East (but not fried), or even with brown sugar and rum sometimes.
You can also boil the peas in the same cooking liquor as a ham or gammon – similar to pease pudding, and I have also seen a recipe where the carlin peas are mashed with bread crumbs and made into little cakes before being fried. I missed sharing this recipe BEFORE Carlin Sunday (Passion Sunday, Pea Sunday, Parched Sunday) this year, but, these peas still have a place in our everyday kitchens, and they are extremely nutritious and very tasty. You can eat them as an accompaniment with fried fish, ham, bacon, gammon or sausages, as well as enjoying them as a snack, served in little paper cones, as the North Eastern tradition dictates. I have never had them made into little cakes, but I’m going to try that next time I prepare them, as I bet they are great served as part of full English breakfast that way.
You can grow your own carlin peas at home, in the garden, they are similar to sweet peas with pretty white and purple flowers; they grow to about six foot and are often referred to as “medieval mushy peas” on the back of the seed packets. However, if like me you need them now, then I buy mine from these three stockists: Country Products in Yorkshire, Ken Bentley of Ken Bentley Speciality Delicatessen Foods, of Driffield, East Yorkshire and Hodmedod’s in Suffolk. (All three stockists offer on-line purchases) I hope you enjoy my family recipe for Carlins, I’ll be sharing many more heirloom and historic recipes from the British Isles over the coming months. Karen
There is a Northern saying; “Tid, Mid, Miseray, Carlin, Palm, Pace-Egg Day”, which helps people remember the order in which the days fall.
(The saying is derived from the psalms, hymns and Sundays of the Christian religious period of Lent)
Tid – Second Sunday in Lent when the Te Deum Laudamus hymn was sung,
Mid – The third Sunday when the Mi Deus Hymn was sung.
Miseray – the fourth Lenten Sunday, was when the Miserere Mei Psalm was chanted.
Carlin – Passion Sunday, the fifth Sunday in Lent, adopted by the North Eastern regions as Carlin Sunday.
Palm – Palm Sunday, the sixth and final Sunday of lent.
Pace Egg – A corruption of “Pasch” from the Latin and Greek root for “Easter”. Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after Lent
Links to other Historical and Heirloom Recipes: