Mushy Peas – Nottingham Caviar (vegan)
Long ago, the Goose Fair at Nottingham, held in early October, was the last and the largest of the country-wide fairs in England. Fairs were an important part of the employment market, for hiring new staff for agricultural or construction work. They weren’t originally for entertainment rides or peep shows. Wherever people gather, other people will come; to sell food, side shows, thrills. Men and women seeking work would come to the Goose Fair, stroll the alleys of tents and hustings, maybe buy something to eat.
Mushy peas were traditionally served in a paper cone and eaten with a splash of mint sauce. They’re hot, cheap and filling. The sauce adds piquancy and tingle to the salty peas and the mint gives extra digestibility and removes some of the gassy effect of the creamy mash. So they say.
Even in the 1980s, when the Goose Fair was about dodgems and whirler rides, you could still buy mushy peas and mint sauce to enjoy among the fairground lights and blaring whistles. The last stall selling Nottingham Peas and Mint Sauce in the city’s old Victoria Market closed down in the Covid crisis. There are hopes it can open again once customers come back, for now, you can make your own.
Serves 6-8 Timings: Overnight soak, then 4 hours simmering
For the mint sauce: a good bunch of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped. 1 tablespoon malt vinegar and 1 tablespoon cider vinegar. 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons sugar. Blend well and adjust the seasonings.
Soak the peas overnight in a good amount of water and mix in the bicarbonate of soda. The peas will absorb quite a lot of water so top it up before you go to bed.
In the morning, tip the peas into a colander and wash them well.
Put them in a pan with the vegetables and fennel seeds and top up with fresh water and bring to the boil. Don’t add salt at this stage or it will harden the peas. As the pan comes to the boil, skim off the foam. Once the pan has come to the boil you can continue the cooking in a slow cooker - on high for 4 hours, or on the hob at a slow simmer, or in the oven in a low heat with the lid on the casserole. You need to check the water level – not too much or too little! In the slow cooker, just have enough liquid to cover the peas.
At the end of 4 hours, test them – they should be mushy and starting to fall apart. Check the level of liquid – you want to mash the peas down into the liquid but you want a porridge-texture mash, so you can drain off a little water if you still have too much. Mash the peas with a potato masher and add salt to taste – you will need quite a bit as they have been cooked without.
You can keep them in a covered container in the fridge for 2-3 days or freeze them. Serve lukewarm with a good splash of mint sauce.
What a smart and retro starter to a meal, and part of all our heritage.
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.