Pease Porridge

A plate of pease porridge with ham, beets and stottie bread

Pease pudding, also known as pease porridge, is a savoury pudding dish made of boiled legumes, typically split yellow peas, with water, salt, and spices, and often cooked with a bacon or ham joint. A common dish in the north-east of England, it is consumed to a lesser extent in the rest of Britain, as well as in Newfoundland, Canada.

Pease porridge hot
Pease porridge cold
Pease porridge in the pot

Nine days old

Some like it hot

Some like it cold

Some like it in the pot

Nine days old

old English nursery rhyme

Many of us probably heard that nursery rhyme growing up. That’s probably about all we know about pease porridge, or pease pudding, as it is often called. Unlike some other famous nursery rhymes, I don’t think there’s any hidden meanings in this one. Its really just a rhyme about one of the more common peasant meals in medieval England.

Pease porridge is basically just split pea soup with less water. Peas where likely introduced to England by the Romans, and because the grew well in the cooler climate, became a staple dish. It’s still quite popular in the north east of England, although eaten throughout the country.

The dish is made from dry field peas, not fresh sweet peas. Peas are of course another variety of legume, so they have a similar texture and cooking method to dry beans. Split peas have had the skin removed, causing the pea to naturally split in half. This shortens the cooking time and allows the peas to naturally break down into a fairly smooth puree.

This dish would be cooked in a pot over the fire, and then kept in the pot, often just adding to it over many days, as the nursery rhyme alludes to. Modern food safety practices frown on the idea of eating nine day old food, even if it’s been refrigerated, but the practice of the never ending kettle of pottage, simply throwing whatever food today brought in to stew with yesterdays leftovers was apparently fairly common a few centuries ago.

If you’ve ever made split pea soup you know that it thickens considerably once it’s cold, so the idea of a pease pudding shouldn’t be too hard to picture. I saw recipes where the hot product was basically soup, and I saw a recipe from the 1750s where you boiled the peas in a linen bag, and then had a ball of pudding that you literally sliced. I haven’t specified how much water you should use, so you can decide how thick you want your porridge. I used just enough water to submerge the onion and carrot sitting on top of the peas, probably about 1 inch over the peas, and the finished product was very much the texture of porridge.

Some of the recipes I looked at included more vegetables, and left them in rather than removing them. You could certainly chop them a little smaller and leave them in for more of a souplike dish. It’s also common to include ham or bacon in the dish as opposed to on the side. The recipe that cooked it in the bag actually suggested boiling your ham and pease pudding simultaneously in the same pot.

Apparently in north east England the traditional pease porridge meal includes boiled ham and stottie cake, a dense doughy flat bread, traditionally made with leftover dough after baking other breads, and perfect for scooping up the peas . The leftovers (pease porridge cold) are then used as a sandwich spread to make a delicious ham sandwich.

Pease Porridge

Serves: 4
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Total: 1:05 plus soaking time

13 oz. yellow split peas

1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
1 carrot, peeled and quartered
2 bay leaves

¼ teaspoon salt
⅓ teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ Tablespoons butter, cut in pieces. 

2 Tablespoons Malt Vinegar
White Pepper, in place of black
13 oz. whole dried peas, in place of split
1 Tablespoon fresh mint

Cover split peas with about 2 inches of cold water and leave to soak overnight.

Drain peas and place in a heavy soup pot, along with onion, carrot, bay leaves and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until peas are falling apart, about one hour. 

Remove the onion, carrot and bay leaves. Mash peas, leaving a few chunks for texture, and season with salt and pepper. Stir in butter a little at a time.

Serve hot with boiled ham, or cold as a sandwich spread or hummus-like dip. 

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