This coming Sunday is a special day up here in the North East. So special, that it will pass by almost unnoticed and uncelebrated. For it is Carling Sunday, another day of complete irrelevance to most concerned yet one that should still be an important day on the calendar of local food customs.
On this 5th day of lent, Carling Sunday, or Passion Sunday (which sounds much more glamorous) was traditionally a day of mourning for the memory of Christ's passion, the word 'carling' being the old English word for 'mourning'. Church altars would be draped in purple in the memory of Christ's passion, and people would look generally miserable, whether they were feeling happy or not.
As meat was pretty much banished from the menu during Lent, peas were consumed in large amounts in Geordie land to help fill hungry tums after the fast. Usually boiled, formed into cakes and simply fried in lard, I can imagine it would have made for bland eating after a few repeated plates. In some Northumbrian towns, a splash of rum and brown sugar may have been added to try and make things more interesting, but I have to assume that desperation rather than culinary experimentation was setting in at that point.
The traditional pea that was used was the Pigeon Pea, which is actually more a bean than a pea. I can't tell you exactly why these particular 'peas' were used as opposed to typical split green peas as you cannot find them anywhere. I know that they are commonplace in tins in the Americas and Caribbean, but here in the North East - not a bean.
So this is my version of a pea 'cake' served with some simple boiled ham, poached egg and a mustard sauce made with the hock juices. I didn't feel like mourning whilst eating it as it was rather lovely. But I could imagine that back when these kinds of days were an important date in the majority of British diaries, any happiness would have been soon expelled after eating yet another bland old pea cooked in lard, with a splash of rum thrown in for good measure. So drape the house in purple, knock up my modern version of an Old English classic and have a happy Carling Sunday.
Carling Pea Cakes with Boiled Ham and Mustard Sauce
250g dried green split peas, soaked for 8 hours in cold water
4 anchovies, chopped
A sprig of rosemary, chopped
A handful of capers, rinsed and chopped
1 tbsp English mustard
A few splashes of Worcestershire Sauce
A handful or two of breadcrumbs
Freshly ground pepper
Olive or rapeseed oil
Boiled ham hock
For the mustard sauce
2 tbsp cider vinegar
50ml ham stock
100ml single cream
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
1 - Put the peas into a pan, just cover with water and bring to the boil. Boil hard for 5 minutes then reduce the heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until the peas have broken apart completely. Ensure that they do not boil dry and top up when necessary.
2 - Pour the peas into a bowl and allow to steam off and cool completely.
3 - Tip in the anchovies, rosemary, mustard, Worcestershire Sauce and pepper. Put in a handful of breadcrumbs and combine until it starts to come together, becoming more stiff.
4 - With floured hands, form the pea mixture into round cakes about an inch thick. Pour in enough oil into a non-stick pan to cover the bottom and fry off the cakes until golden on each side.
5 - In another pan, heat up a little oil and heat up slithers of ham hock. Remove and keep warm.
6 - To make the sauce, pour in the vinegar and scrape the pan. Then add the other ingredients and cook until slightly thickened.
7 - Serve the ham on top of a pea cake with a drizzle of the mustard sauce. A poached egg would go perfectly with this.