Saturday, 3 November 2012

Bonfire Night: Black peas

It's almost Bonfire Night when England remembers Guy Fawkes' failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. As well as memories of bonfires and fireworks, I mostly remember the food we used to eat. In this and the next post, I'd like to introduce you to some of these traditional dishes from my Lancashire childhood.

Today it's the turn of Black Peas. I only ever remember eating these on Bonfire Night and always out of a polystyrene cup with a plastic spoon. However, on some Northern fairs and markets, you can buy them all year round. In Preston, they are known as parched peas: parching apparently being an old English word for long, slow boiling. Amazing what you learn when blogging!

Intrigued to find out if parched peas are the same as black peas, I queued at a food van on the Flag Market and handed over my 75p for a small portion. I wasn't the only one buying that day as the older gentleman in front of me also bought a portion. In fact there were three food vans on the market selling parched peas which must be a sign of its popularity in Preston.

Sure enough, the portion was handed to me in a polystyrene cup with a white plastic spoon. The traditional acccompaniment is salt, vinegar and pepper. I'm happy with just malt vinegar so I added a good splash and went off to find a quiet corner to taste my first black peas in many years.

The peas were a lighter colour than I remember but the flavour was the same. The texture should be al dente and I'd say more closely remembers a cooked dried bean than a pea. Earthy and, in this case, quite peppery which must have been an addition by the vendors. Lovely, warming and tasty on a chilly day.

The peas don't seem to be widely available but in this area you can buy them from fruit and veg stalls in markets. Mum says they can also be found in pet shops where they're known as pigeon peas (ie. for feeding to pigeons!), but I'm not sure whether these would pass food safety standards for human consumption. According to Wikipedia, they are purple podded peas, also known as maple peas. All very confusing, so the best advice is to wander over to Lancashire to be sure of what you're buying!

My peas came ready-bagged and included the bicarbonate of soda tablet shown above for the pre-soaking process. On other stalls, tubs of bicarb were sold separately. So, how do you cook them? Well, the recipe is so simple it can hardly be called a recipe. However, this is the one handed down to my Mum from my Nanna and now to me.

1. Soak 200g peas overnight in a bowl of cold water with 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda.
2. The next day, drain the peas and rinse well.
3. Put in a pan and cover with water. Bring up to the boil and then simmer until the peas are soft. They should not be too mushy but still have some bite to them (al dente).
4. Add salt and pepper to taste - the liquid will turn milkier as you do this.
5. Serve in a mug with plenty of malt vinegar.

Black peas are usually served on their own as described above. However, Mum remembers her Auntie Maggie mixing them in with minced beef and onion to flesh out a dish. I decided to serve them as a side dish with sausages and corn on the cob.

OK, so they're not going to win any beauty contests but they do taste good. Why not give them a go?


  1. I am currently obsessed with finding out about regional food traditions for Bonfire night, so I read this with interest. I'd never heard of this black pea dish, how fascinating. I think they look quite yummy, and not unlike baked beans.

  2. I remember buying mugs of black peas at both bonfire night and also the local fairground in Rochdale as a child and putting malt vinegar on them Always ate them while still hot. Brings back fond memories and they tasted delicious.

  3. Three cheers for black peas, parkin and treacle toffee. My childhood winters wrapped up in three simple foods. Yum yum!

    1. Mine too! Wondering if they taste as good if I can find them this year.