17 March 2013: 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 Children’s' Rhyme

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 not done those things which I ought to have done for ages…namely write a blog post. Well it’s been busy - that’s all I can say and hey after three years I just ran out of steam. But here I am at last, re-invigorated and raring to go again.

It’s Carlin Sunday. A carlin is a dried pea, a soft nutty brown in colour, sometimes called 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’ (by Mrs Gutch, pub. 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. I’ve done a blog post about Carlin Sunday before but at that time carlins were there none – well all is now revealed and I have some. A visit to a farm shop in Yorkshire a few months ago proved fruitful – or rather peafull!

Carlins almost certainly originated in the gardens of early  monasteries, when pulses formed a major part of the monks' diet. They grow to about six feet high, have attractive purple and white blossom, and they crop prolifically. The peas, which can be used fresh, or dried for winter use, have a distinctive flavour, often described as a mediaeval mushy pea. 
There must have been hundreds of varieties of early peas and beans - many now lost to us.

There are a number of legends about the peas, here’s one.

Carlins rescued the good citizens of Newcastle upon Tyne from starvation during the Civil War. In 1644, Newcastle was a Royalist city and the Scottish army crossed the border and moved south intent on capturing Newcastle and securing the coal supplies on behalf of their allies the Parliamentarians. Newcastle was put under siege. The siege lasted from July until October, by which time the food supply was exhausted. A Dutch ship with its cargo of carlins saved the city by evading the blockade and reaching the port. 

The cooking methods vary as much as the legends, with some people steeping then boiling them, then adding butter and seasoning, some adding vinegar to the boiled peas and others boiling a ham shank with them.  The traditional way to serve them is in a cone of paper cooked as below.

8oz/225g Carlin Peas
Pinch of Salt – actually I think it needs more than a pinch
1oz/25g Butter
2oz/50g Brown Sugar
Dash of Rum

Soak the peas overnight in plenty of cold water.  Drain and cook in a pan of boiling water until soft – and that depends on how dried out they are – mine took about 90 minutes to cook.

Heat up the butter in a frying pan, drain peas, add to the pan and fry for 2 to 3 minutes.

Serve hot, sprinkled with the brown sugar and a good splash of rum.

I did cook them this way for the blog – and honestly? Horrible. But then I made a big pot of chilli con carne and instead of the kidney beans I used carlin peas – most acceptable. They need a lot of seasoning but in texture they are not unlike a Borlotti bean - so I might try them as a substitute.

Have a good week. More soon. xx

Take of this grain, which in my garden grows,
And grows for you;
Make bread of it: and that repose
And peace, which ev'ry where
With so much earnestness you do pursue,
Is only there. 

From 'Peace' by George Herbert 1593-1633


Mary Beth said...


Yaay! A new post! We missed you. Hope you had a good break. I did enjoy your tumbler photos in the meantime.
I laughed when you said the old carlins recipe was horrible. I felt the same way about cooking up dried fava beans. The fresh are delicious, but the dried- not so much.

I am getting ready for St. Joseph's Day. This year, I am concentrating on the sweets for a change- I have always wanted to make the tower of little honeyed fried bits of dough, and a kind of sweet ceci filled ravioli, and some sweet rice fritters.

Oh, and I just now saw your note on the right about your new book being up for pre-order. Congratulations, Liz! How wonderful to finally be able to own a copy. You should be very proud!

Anonymous said...

Just found your site and enjoyed the info about Carlin Sunday. My mother used to cook them every year. It seemed very important to her but I nave knew why. Being a small child I never asked ! Interesting about the Dutch ship saving the town from starvation. I remember her serving them with vinegar and bread and butter. I actually liked them. I enjoyed reading your site. Thanks. Muriel R