Black peas, also called parched peas or dapple peas, form a traditional Lancashire dish served often, with lashings of malt vinegar, on or around Bonfire Night (5 November). The dish is popular in Bury, Preston, Rochdale, Oldham, Wigan, Bolton and Heywood, and is made from the purple podded pea (Pisum sativum var. arvense) which is soaked overnight and simmered to produce a type of mushy pea. Parching is a now-defunct term for long slow boiling.
These are field peas, left to dry on the plant, as distinct from garden peas, picked green for consumption fresh. The Carlin pea dates back to the 12th century. It is said that Martin Frobisher buried caches of these peas on Baffin Island in the 1570s to sustain his expedition while seeking the Northwest Passage.
Black peas are commonly found at fairgrounds and mobile food counters. They are traditionally eaten from a cup with salt and vinegar. They can be served hot or cold, the former being especially popular in the winter months. At fairgrounds, they were traditionally served in white porcelain mugs and eaten with a spoon. In more recent years, they have been served in thick white disposable cups. Many people fail to re-create the same taste that black peas provide when bought at a funfair. In the "world famous" Bury Market and in Preston, parched peas are sold ready-cooked and served in brown-paper bags or in plastic tubs, as an autumn delicacy. They are also sold at the Manchester Christmas markets.
Consumption is limited to certain areas within the historical boundaries of Lancashire, notably Oldham, Wigan, Bury, Rochdale, Preston, Stalybridge, Leigh, Atherton, Tyldesley and Bolton.
Carlin peas are a similar dish, prepared slightly differently, made in the northeast of England and parts of Cumbria. They are a traditional staple of Carlin Sunday (the Sunday before Palm Sunday). Unlike the Lancashire black peas, Carlin peas are fried with butter or dripping for a few minutes after boiling. They are often boiled for an hour rather than being slow boiled for up to three hours. They are also served fried and seasoned with vinegar and black pepper, but sometimes with rum and brown sugar.
It has been suggested that the name "Carlin" comes from "Carling Sunday" or "Care Sunday" after the population of Newcastle were saved from starvation in a siege of 1327 or 1644 when a ship arrived from Norway with a cargo of these peas on that day.
A children's rhyme counts out the Sundays of Lent as "Tid, Mid, Misere; Carlin, Palm, Pace-Egg Day", referring to the second Sunday when "Te Deum" was sung; the third when "Mi Deus" was sung; the Sunday when the "Misere Mei" was chanted; Carlin Sunday; Palm Sunday; and Pace Eggs on Easter Sunday.
Other names given are pigeon peas (not to be confused with the tropical pigeon pea Cajanus cajan), black badgers, and brown badgers.
The availability of black peas is seasonal; they are typically available from the end of October and throughout November. They are available from local stores and also pet shops (as the peas are a good carp bait) although peas from pet shops may not necessarily be food-grade.
Carlin peas can be bought for home preparation in at least two varieties, "Red Fox" and "Black Badger", and the latter are available tinned in water. This product, from Hodmedod's, won the Soil Association's BOOM Award 2016 as winner of "Store cupboard items" and overall winner in the "Pantry" category.
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