Parched Peas for Bonfire Night

Packet of parched peas

On the 5th of November the British remember the thwarting of gunpowder plot with fireworks and bonfires topped with scarecrow-type effigies called guys. The air is soon scented with fireworks and burning wood that linger into the next day.

I don’t like bangers going off and know all about trying to soothe terrified dogs, but I still find Bonfire Night magical. In normal years, it’s a time for getting together and having a jolly good time. This year we can’t celebrate with a town bonfire, and the fireworks that are going off are almost completely obscured by heavy mist. Still, hearing the giggles of children when I was out walking, I can tell that many families are doing their best to keep the tradition alive.

The foods I associate with Bonfire Night are atmospheric. Jacket potatoes, singed by the fire. Treacle toffee. Parkin, a type of heavy-grained gingerbread. And parched peas or black peas.

I imagine many British people will be unsure about this Lancashire delicacy. The peas they are made from are listed by Slow Food UK as an (almost) forgotten food, one of their Ark of Taste products.

Dried black peas for making parched peas
Black peas are also called black badgers, maple peas and carlin peas

I’ve only ever eaten parched peas on Bonfire Night. Mama, my maternal grandmother, would cook them for us. Any time I think of black peas, I see them held by mittened hands, steaming in a mug outside on a dark night.

Black peas are not easy to come by these days as their Slow Food status suggests. I got mine a couple of years ago in Booths, a northern supermarket I mentioned in an earlier post. I’ve been meaning to cook them, and as England enters our second shutdown today, the impulse to have a comforting treat of the simplest of kinds did the trick.

I never asked Mama the recipe or if I did, I’ve forgotten it. Mama was not a fancy cook, but had some specialities she made simply and well. Foods that linger in my memory.

I remember there was nothing Mama’s parched peas except peas, served with salt and pepper in their own gravy with lots of vinegar. That ruled out recipes I found online that included carrots and onions. In essence, I followed this recipe.

Cooked parched peas in their own gravy
Parched peas are served with vinegar in their own gravy

I know I haven’t made them as well as Mama did, but they do smell good! They don’t smell like normal peas, but darker. They smell like Bonfire Night.

Wishing you a very happy November 5th. x

28 Replies to “Parched Peas for Bonfire Night”

  1. Never heard of them. I associate bonfire night with jacket potatoes, mushy peas, sausages, tomato soup, bonfire toffee, and of course Yorkshire parkin. Between the age of 10 to when I left home there was a street bonfire which was fantastic. Lots of fun and shared fireworks and food.

  2. It has been a long time since I’ve read about the Gunpowder Plot, and I of course had no idea it was commemorated in this way. I certainly hope you will all be celebrating more traditionally next year! And I also hope your peas bring back good memories — there is nothing like food to open the family album in our heads. A happy November 5 to you too, Susan!

      1. Halloween is very big here. I hope it doesn’t overtake Bonfire Night there; those traditions are too interesting. I wonder if some year the two will merge — I think that would be complicated! How did your peas turn out? As good as your grandmother’s?

  3. That’s fascinating. I’ve never heard of them, nor has my Liverpudlian husband. Pretty sure Booths in Ripon doesn’t sell them either. I’m a parkin-eater myself. And I’ve forgotten to make any!

    1. Sorry about your parkin, but it’ll taste just as good when you get round to it. The peas are good. The gravy is really thick in the fridge, but goes thin again when it is heated up.

  4. I’ve heard of them but didn’t know what you did with them. We have Zozobra out here, where we burn a giant effigy of old man gloom.

    1. It seems a very good idea, especially if it would destroy all our worries. I would not be at all surprised if Bonfire Night taps in to a much earlier celebration along similar lines.

  5. Thanks for a reminder of a favorite event from my childhood! (Not the parched peas, but Guy Fawkes Day.) I tried to tell my granddaughter about it but it’s really hard to explain to Americans! We used to take the effigies around the neighborhood to collect money for the bonfire. Do they still do that? (We’re talking the early 1950s!)

    1. I haven’t seen penny for the guy being done for a number of years, but I’ve often been in the USA around this time, so I know what you mean. I don’t suppose they’d be asking for a penny now either!

    1. I’m glad you liked it. It’s better for the animals if loud noises aren’t going on all night. They’ll be going off for the next few days around here. It’s always the same when it happens midweek and it was awfully misty at first.

  6. We always had carlings in the run up to Easter, but dry- no gravy 😦 I know it’s an unhealthy occupation too but I can’t help loving it. We had atmospheric displays in our local park, and when that grew too popular, on the beach with a much needed bonfire. I do miss that! 🙂 🙂

  7. Oh we DO love our fireworks don’t we? Stockton Borough council always put on an IMMENSE free firework display which we’ve been going to for years now, ever since the kids got bored with bought ones. It’s all change this year tho’; they’re aged 21, 23 & 26 and they suggested all chipping in to buy fireworks. We’ve just had one of THE best nights ever, with lots of oohs and aahs and laughing and squealing! Proper family time in the back garden, it’s been great! And I always like to think it’s a gentle reminder to the government, whoever’s in charge, that we can always have another go!!!

  8. I’ve never heard of this…especially the peas! Thanks for sharing. So fascinating!

    1. It’s the kind of tradition that really needs to be passed on – you’d never invent it these days. We seem to need fancier treats.

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