Thursday, 18 February 2010

You Ask, We Answer: Mushy Peas

A little while back, Monica confessed she was having a craving for mushy peas and wondered whether she would be able to make them in the USA. She'd found a recipe, but as it specified using Marrowfat peas, she wasn't sure if these were available in her local shops.

This of course, is right up the You Ask, We Answer team's street, even if they have been a little tardy in responding to Monica's plea for help. As you can see, extensive research has been undertaken so you get an idea of what mushy peas look like. They're a traditional accompaniment to fish and chips (as sampled by George W when he visited Tony Blair) and if you also hear of someone eating pie and peas, that's the other main way they're served. When I lived in the north-east of England I found mint sauce is usually provided to go with the peas. Yum.


That's all very well, but it doesn't really tell you whether you can get hold of the right kind of pea to cook muy autentico mushy ones. If you can find dried peas like those pictured above (not necessarily in a box), then you can. Note they're wrinkled peas, which tells you they're quite starchy in nature. Dried yellow peas may also work: they still need to be wrinkly and you'll need to add a drop of blue or green food colouring to them if you want them to be green. However, if you leave them yellow, they should taste the same as the green version!
This video tutorial shows you how to make traditional chip shop mushy peas. Note you'll need to adjust the quantities to suit the size of family you're serving. The video gives a good hint: the peas swell up to around three times their dried size, so that should give you an idea of how much to use. Some recipes add a little sugar (though it's not really necessary) and don't worry if you don't have bicarbonate of soda* (you'll only need to use a pinch for a family sized portion of peas) as you can still make a good version without it. You can still see some peas in the video's final result: you may want to puree yours to make peas like the ones shown at the top of this post.
If you can't find dried peas like the ones shown, don't despair. You can make something similar using frozen peas. Simply cook them as usual, with or without some mint and then puree them using a blender or just mash them with a fork or potato masher. This is a simplified method of what posh chefs do over here when making their upmarket version of fish, chips and mushy peas.
Mmm fish, chips and mushy peas - that reminds me of a joke... ;)
*= you can leave this out, but the pea skins will be tougher

16 comments:

  1. Hi VP, thanks for the post! I have in fact made mushy peas from frozen peas and that was OK... my main query was just about the peas themselves--if marrowfat was a generic term for dried peas or a specific cultivar. I can't get them here. A few heirloom seed companies had them listed at one time but they're no longer available. Our northern peas 9white) are marrowfat, so I think it means a type that's starchier and can be left ont he vine... but that still isn't the right one for me. (P.S. I can get over-priced Bigga canned mushy peas at a shop that sells imported food, but not the peas themselves.)

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  2. Um, OK. I'm still not sure that really *explains* mushy peas. ;-) LOL.

    What does the bicarbonate of soda do for them?

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  3. Monica - good question which I only hinted at in the post. It's not a specific cultivar, but a group of them. Peas fall into 2 basic groups: round coated and wrinkly coated. Any pea which dries into a wrinkly one are the ones which are used for mushy peas. It's all to do with the types of sugar in the pea. Wrinkly ones have more starch and the round ones more of the simpler sugars. There's lots of pea varieties (round or wrinkled), but only a few will be grown commercially i.e. the ones which crop at the same time and are best suited for harvesting mechanically, so in reality the peas making up the dried peas (or canned Bigga) will be from a handful of cultivars at best.

    The round coated tend to be picked when young and used for freezing. Older peas (i.e. left on the vine for longer) will go for canning. Even older peas (even if they're the sweeter types) will go for drying. At this point even the round pea varieties will have higher concentrations of starch in them. If they've gone for drying it's usually because the farmer's saving his own seed. If he isn't, then he must have missed best cropping time for some reason and isn't maximising the profit from his crop.

    Your canned Bigga peas are the absolutely authentic pea, but as you say being imported it makes it a rather expensive treat for you.

    Susan - it's a very British thing! Bicarbonate of soda is used to soften the peas - because of their type and because they've usually been left on the vine for longer, their skins can be rather tough. It's also used to reduce certain after effects!

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  4. Forgot to say - using frozen peas does give the right kind of consistency, but not the same taste because they're not from peas with higher starch levels. I think that's why some recipes add sugar: we're so used to the sweetness of frozen peas nowadays, our tastebuds demand it for mushy peas too. However, that's not the authentic flavour which I love.

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  5. I'll take your word for it, VP. :-D

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  6. I've always wondered what mushy peas were. I used to think they were canned peas that had been mashed. Now I know. Good explanation, VP! Have a good Thursday.

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  7. Great joke, I enjoyed that one. Here's one that is convulsing the office (it's the simple things in life that amuse my colleagues...)

    Q. What do you do if the cake you bake goes wrong?
    A. Make a contingency flan.

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  8. Love the joke-hate mushy peas! Must be because I'm not Northern enough : )

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  9. Well you live and learn not that I can stand mushy peas but Mike is very partial to them so many thanks.

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  10. Hi VP! VERY interesting post! Thanks so much for the info on mushy peas...never heard of them but next time I visit England I'll definately look for them! Loved the Cotswolds and London in 2002 and look forward to seeing more someday! Love your blog too!

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  11. Fascinating and informative post, as ever!

    I love fish, chips and mushy peas, but the idea (as described in the Times) of a celeb chef poncifying them up into something pretentious appals me. And the very notion of using a fish so delicate, refined and expensive as turbot in such brash cooking is almost blasphemous.

    As for mushy peas - my father used to grow his crop to such advanced maturity that they dried on the vines and would then store. My mother used to make pease pudding with them - which is really just a richer version of 'mushy peas' and is lovely with ham.

    If you're desperate and haven't time to re-constitute dried peas, look for canned 'Processed Peas' in a supermarket. These have been dried and then reconstituted and cooked in a factory - lovely! - but can be mashed and become instant mushy peas. And boy, are they cheap!

    I'm told that in posh chippies oop north, mushy peas are referred to as 'Manchester Caviare.'

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  12. Thanks to the YAWA team for another interesting tidbit of information! When I saw the title, it made me think of the creamed peas we were served in the school cafeteria when I was a kid. Now I'm a vegetable lover, but those were the most disgusting peas I've ever eaten. Your mushy peas, thankfully, sound much different--it reminds me of split pea soup, or is that something else entirely?

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  13. Oh dear. Not really a London thing. We take our fish and chips with wallies (pickled cucumbers) or pickled onions. Very sophisticated.

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  14. Kate - good to see you again :) You can mash canned peas, but it's just not the same thing!

    Victoria - tee hee, that's my kind of joke too ;)

    TS - you don't like mushy peas, you'll be telling me you like Marmite next :0 Oh, you did - earlier today ;)

    Joanne - you're welcome :)

    Joan - how kind, thank you :) I hope you come over to England soon!

    Nige - it's unecessary fiddling about with perfection isn't it? I must remember Manchester caviar next time I'm up North - you always come up with a great snippet to add to my posts :)

    Rose - split peas are similar and mushy peas will be much thicker than the soup. You've got the right idea though :)

    Colleen - how about some pickled eggs instead?

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  15. Being a 'proper' Northern lass, I love fish, chips and mushy peas and pie and peas (went to a pea and pie supper just last week) with either mint sauce or lashings of good old Sarsons malt vinegar ...... nearly as much as I loved that joke! :)

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  16. Nutty Gnome - I suddenly feel very hungry!

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