Saturday, 18 February 2012

Treasure From England

I were brung up in Yorkshire, where we not only talk the most proper Inglish, we also invented t'world's best cuisine. Tha' knows, Yorkshire puddin, pease puddin, black puddin too, I shunt wonder, and o' course, t'world's best vegetable: mushy peas.

I've searched high and low for the makings of mushy peas (dried marrowfat peas, that's all) here in Madrid, but to no avail. You can get ready-made 'mushy peas' in tins, but these are bright green and not at all how they should be.

On my last two visits to England, trying to buy some marrowfat peas was a fairly high priority, but on both those trips I was in pansy London where you can easily get fancy foreign greenery like guacamole and pesto, but you really really can't get marrowfat peas.

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine announced that he was shortly going to spend a week in Liverpool, and asked the usual question - is there anything you want? Normally this question is met with a polite 'no', but this time 'a kilo of marrowfat peas' was out of my mouth before I'd had time to think.

We met the other day so he could hand over the treasure. I offered him Britcoin in payment, but he was happy to accept a minced beef and onion pie instead. I was almost speechless when I saw what he'd got me though.

Four 250g boxes of Batchelor's Bigga peas. Wow. I didn't even think Batchelor's still existed. See, I worked for them one summer, about 1976? They had a factory in Sheffield, and for some reason they liked to hire people from our village and some of the surrounding ones, and bus us to the factory and back. My job was quite straightforward. Me and my buddies had to stand at the end of about four dehydration lines. These 'lines' were up a flight of stairs, and quite long. At the far end, trucks would deliver freshly-harvested things like peas or broad beans onto conveyor belts. Workers would pick out twigs, stones and other stuff that shouldn't be there, and the veg would slowly travel through long, open-ended ovens until they were all dried out.

The dehydrated vegetables would then sit patiently in a hopper until it was their turn to be bagged. This is where us bagging operatives came in. We had to fasten a big strong brown paper sack onto the end of a chute connected to the hoppers, pull a chain to release a bagfull of peas into the sack, unfasten the sack and lug it over to a kind of vertical sewing machine, stitch the top shut and then lug the sack onto a pallet.

And that was all cool and groovy, except when the sacks slipped off the end of the chute, or split when you lifted them, or you didn't stitch them shut properly. Whatever the cause, the result was dried peas all over the factory floor and remedial action involving a dustpan and shovel, and a fresh bag. Let's just say it wasn't terribly hygienic, and I'm sure any stray stuff was removed before the creation of a finished product to sell to the public..

But I digress. The day after I got these beauties, I made fish and chips and mushy peas. Very authentic, they were. You soak the peas for about 12 hours in water. Batchelor's supply a couple of tablets (probably bicarbonate of soda) to assist the soaking process. Strain the peas and cover them with fresh water in a pressure cooker. Bring to the boil, slap the lid on and give them 5-10 minutes. The peas should be soft, and some of them will have turned into an olive-green goo. And that's it, done, although you might want to add a bit of salt because they're somewhat bland if you don't.

Mushy peas. Ooh.