The first time I tried mushy peas was in England at a Harry Ramsden restaurant in Bournemouth, something I wrote about in March 2015. The flavor was very similar to green pea soup, except the concoction was much thicker than soup. Mushy peas served with fish and chips, lamb or meat pie is a traditional favorite in the British Isles. My last blog about mystery peas inspired me to try my hand at making this British staple.
There are various schools of thought surrounding the preparation of mushy peas. Some cooks feel any peas will do and they use frozen garden peas, adding cream to thicken. Others staunchly maintain that only marrow fat peas soaked in soda water will result in the authentic dish. Marrow fat peas are not well known in the US. These are merely regular garden peas that have been allowed to ripen on the plant until the pods dry. The peas are large and starchy by that stage of maturity.
For my recipe, I tried to remain authentic by using dried whole organic peas that, when rehydrated, do taste a bit past the picking prime. Mushy peas are not difficult to make, but they require at least two days to prepare. Leftovers can be refrigerated for a day or two, or frozen. They are the true inspiration for the Pease Porridge nursery rhyme. This dish is also known as pease porridge in the UK. Here is my recipe, adapted from various versions.
One pound dried green peas, preferably mature peas
1.5 quarts water
1 tablespoon baking soda
Place soda in a 2 qt glass container, add water and stir to dissolve. Sort and rinse peas, add to water, assure the peas are well covered with water. Let set overnight, or at least 12 hours, uncovered. I let them set in the refrigerator. Check after about 8 hours and add more water, if necessary to allow the peas enough fluid to properly rehydrate. Some cooks recommend adding the water hot, I don’t find that necessary.
After the peas have absorbed enough water to be soft, drain, rinse and place in 3-4 qt cooking pot. Add enough water to cover the peas. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer for approx. 30 minutes, periodically stirring gently to prevent sticking to the bottom. The idea is to soften the peas, but still maintain at least some of the seed shape. The peas should be partially turned to paste with plenty of whole pea lumps. Toward the end of the cooking time, monitor closely to prevent burning. During the simmering, add a small amount of water from time to time, if the porridge seems too thick.
Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Some also add a little sugar and/or fresh mint. Make various additions as desired, including onion, chive, garlic, etc. This dish is versatile. Serve the mushy peas hot. They can be enjoyed as a vegetable or as a starch serving. Makes about 6 cups.
Just a quick personal note: I’ve found it necessary to use Beano when eating a good serving of mushy peas. Otherwise, my body has a rather unfortunate reaction to large quantities of legume.