21 March: Carlin Sunday

I eat my peas with honey,
I’ve done it all my life
It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on the knife’

Traditional Childrens' Rhyme

A carlin is a dried pea, a soft greyish brown in colour, sometimes referred to as a pigeon pea. In the north east of England, the fifth Sunday of Lent is the traditional day for eating them. ‘Carlin’ is derived from the German word ‘Karr’ meaning atonement, and it used to be the custom according to ‘Folk Lore of East Yorkshire’ (Mrs Gutch, 1911) to eat them on the Fifth Sunday of Lent. Mrs Gutch also tells us that it was common ‘for the superior yeomanry to bequeath pulse, peas, beans and rye to their poor neighbours when disposing of their worldly effects’

What Mrs Gutch doesn’t mention is that East Yorkshire folk also say ‘Carlin Sunday’ is followed by ‘Farting Monday’ – way too much for her Edwardian sensibilities.

So as a descendent of both the ‘superior yeomanry’ and the ‘poor neighbours’ I started researching the way to serve carlin peas. Well first catch your pea I suppose. Neither of my local whole food shops – both very good ones, could help and a link to a promising Yorkshire grocer’s website seemed to be dead. So in the end I gave up. Carlin peas having been soaked and cooked are rolled in hot butter, sprinkled with salt and vinegar and served in a paper cone. I could not find them or face them even if I had, not even for you dear reader.

Apart from the first Sunday, all the Sundays in Lent have names: ‘Tid, Mid, Miseray, Carling, Palm and Paste Egg Day’ - Tid, Mid, and Miseray are named from the beginning of psalms and hymns traditional in services on that day; the Te Deum, Mi Deus and Misereri mei . So here we are, it’s the Fifth Sunday in Lent and I’ve nothing to show for it. Maybe its time to review our recent and future posts and fill a gap. We have done a soup recently for Lenten Fasting, we’ve done potatoes, we’ve got a goodly joint of meat this week for Lady Day and we’ve got figs coming up next Sunday.

Let’s have peas and lettuce the French way; simple, easy and cleansing. Scraping around in the garden I found the first, the very first, sprigs of mint – what a treat. The recipe is from ‘The Gentle Art of Cookery’ by Mrs Leyel and Mrs Hartley published by Chatto and Windus, I have the 1929 edition. I give to you it verbatim, it is indeed a relic from a more gentle age.

Petits Pois a la Française

‘Choose your peas carefully; shell, wash and drain them; put them in a casserole with good butter, a little salt, the hearts of two or three small lettuces, a bunch of parsley and shallots into which put a little piece of the herb savoury or mint and two cloves. Cook these over a slow fire, stirring them from time to time, but not adding any water. When they are nearly cooked, taste them and put in the casserole half a slice of bread and butter dipped in flour. When the peas are cooked, serve them.’

OK. So this is what I did.

I rubbed the bottom of a cast iron casserole dish with a little butter. Then I laid in it half an onion which I had sliced paper thin. I quartered a head of Little Gem lettuce then put it in with two mugs of frozen peas. I added salt, ground black pepper, a knob of butter, three big sprigs of parsley and one clove. I put on the lid tightly and put it on a low heat for about 10 minutes when I checked it wasn't sticking, turned over the lettuce pieces and gave it a stir. When the lettuce was warmed through but not soft I arranged it on a warm platter and sprinkled over fresh mint and more parsley. We ate it with home made fish cakes and tartare sauce.

It was delicious.

' .....Then he knows
The influence of the stars upon his meats
And all their seasons, tempers, qualities;
And so to fit his relishes and sauces
He has nature in a pot'

Ben Jonson (1572-1637) from ‘Staple of News’ 1625

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