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Mushy peas are dried marrowfat peas which are first soaked overnight in water with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), then rinsed in fresh water, after which the peas are gathered in a saucepan, covered with water, and brought to a boil, then simmered until the peas are softened and mushy. The mush is seasoned with salt and pepper.
Throughout the British Isles (Northern England and the Midlands in particular) they are a traditional accompaniment to fish and chips. In Northern England they are also commonly served as part of a popular snack called pie and peas (akin to the South Australian pie floater, but with mushy peas instead of a thick pea soup accompanying the meat pie) and are considered to be a part of traditional British cuisine. They are sometimes also packed into a ball, dipped in batter, deep-fried, and served as a pea fritter. Mushy peas can also be bought ready-prepared in tin cans.
In Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and parts of Lincolnshire, mushy peas are often served as a snack on their own. In Nottinghamshire they are traditionally accompanied by mint sauce, and sold at open-air events such as fairs or fêtes. In Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, mushy peas served with chips is called a 'pea mix'. Mushy peas are also popular in Scotland, served with fish and chips, or as a wetter version with vinegar in a bowl.
A variant (particularly popular around Bolton and Bury of Greater Manchester, and Preston, Lancashire) is parched peas – carlin peas (also known as maple peas or black peas) soaked and then boiled slowly for a long time; these peas are traditionally served with vinegar.
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Green colouring is often used to colour mushy peas. It is typically achieved by adding the yellow and blue additives, Tartrazine (E102) and Brilliant Blue FCF (E133), which together produce the green effect. The use of artificial colours results in bright green mushy peas. Pure mushy peas, with no colouring, tend to form a more grey-green end product. Sodium bicarbonate (E500) is often added to soften the peas to enhance the colour and to inhibit fermentation during soaking, which reduces later flatulence in consuming said foods. The British Food Standards Agency, on 28 April 2008, asked for a voluntary ban on artificial food colourings and suggested that the ban would be practical by the end of 2009. This would mean that certain foods, including mushy peas, would need to be free of the additive, otherwise the item might be removed from sale. Ministers have stated that they will pursue a ban through law if food manufacturers do not phase out the food colourings. As of 2019, the ban is yet to come into effect.
Mushy peas present a particular problem since replacing tartrazine proved challenging. While natural alternatives do exist - most notably beta-carotene, which is the natural orange pigment found in carrots and curcumin, which is extracted from turmeric - they do not result in colours as strong nor as vibrant, which is why manufacturers prefer to use tartrazine if possible. Without the colourant the dish would be murky grey. In July 2010 an EU directive required the warning label "May have effects on activity and attention in children" to be applied to foods containing tartrazine.
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- Elaine Lemm. Traditional Mushy Peas Recipe. About.com. Retrieved 23 September 2013.
- "Pea fritter". Everything2.com. Retrieved 2 October 2018.
- "48 hours in Bristol / Dining with the locals", Independent, 26 April 2008
- Meikle, James (10 April 2008). "FSA calls for voluntary ban on artificial colourings". London: The Guardian.
- "UK: Ban on food additives 'supported by ministers'", Fresh Plaza, 17 November 2008
- "Food additives". Food Standards Agency. Retrieved 31 October 2018.
- "Tartrazine- Molecule of the Month - May 2018 (HTML version)". www.chm.bris.ac.uk. Retrieved 31 October 2018.
- "The Kitchen Thinker: Food colourings". The Telegraph. 7 February 2011. Retrieved 3 April 2018.