Traditional Bonfire Night fare
“Carlin peas are an ancient pea that we have grown for centuries,” says Jenny Chandler, Borough Market demonstration chef and UN ambassador for pulses. “You find them in quite a lot of northern Europe, but particularly here in Britain. They fell out of favour in the south of England but in the north they’ve retained the tradition of eating them—particularly in Lancashire, where they are often cooked with a little salt and vinegar as a popular snack on Bonfire Night.”
Found at Spice Mountain, carlin peas have always been grown as a pea to be dried, and it is this drying process that gives them their distinctive appearance. It is the nature of their deep brown, sometimes black skin that sets carlins apart. “The skin is quite thick which gives it a very different texture to your average dried pea,” Jenny continues.
“They tend to stay intact when cooked, which is one of the things I like about them, and they have a very interesting flavour profile—there is a lovely, distinctive nuttiness about them.” Jenny says this with a surprising amount of feeling—it turns out this touches on one of her bugbears about people’s attitudes to carlin peas and, in fact, to pulses in general.
“A lot of people see dried peas as simply being used to bulk out a dish—something that’s just there to fill you up, with the pea itself not offering any kind of excitement. But this is so far from the truth. These peas bring a fantastic flavour to any dish,” she insists.
Set the taste buds tingling
One classic recipe Jenny loves is grey peas and bacon, which comes from the Black Country in the west Midlands. While the name may not immediately set the taste buds tingling, it is a dish that many people from the area know and love.
Simply fry the bacon with some onions and a bit of garlic, then add the carlin peas with some stock—or even just water—and cook for about 30 minutes, when some of the peas are beginning to collapse. “This Bonfire Night I’ll definitely be cooking some up, it is lovely having it hot from a thermos flask on a cold night watching a bonfire. It is incredible comfort food to chomp throughout the winter.”
However, there is no getting away from the fact that carlin peas take a long time to cook—before their 30 minutes in the pot, they must be pre-cooked. “First you have to soak them overnight because they will take forever otherwise. Then just put them on over a low heat and make sure you have a good covering of water and they will look after themselves. But if you have a pressure cooker, you can cook them in 10-15 minutes.”
Jenny does have some advice about getting around the time issue. “Frankly, there is no point in cooking 200g of carlin peas—just cook the whole 500g bag and then stick what you don’t use that day in the freezer so when you need some, they are ready for you. If you are cooking a shepherd’s pie or beef stew, just throw some in. I also sprinkle them into roast vegetable winter salads. They offer a really nice texture, as well as that hint of nuttiness, to any dish.”
As with all pulses, carlin peas are a fantastic source of protein, so make a great food for vegetarians or those that are looking to eat a bit less meat. “They’re wonderful value for money, too. But most of all they are extremely versatile”—the only limit is the cook’s imagination.
“Last winter I made a citrus, avocado and carlin pea salad. It was wonderful. It felt healthy and fresh but still had a winter salad feel, which is just what you want in a warm kitchen on a cold winters afternoon.”