pease porridge, please

Pease porridge hot,
Pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot,
Nine days old.

Some like it hot,
Some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot
Nine days old.

Welcome to the second day of my Children’s Book Week celebration featuring recipes inspired by Mother Goose. Hope you had fun patting your cheesecake.

While researching Pease Porridge Hot, I made a startling discovery. Pease porridge is actually made from peas! (Duh.) Why didn’t somebody tell me this? Do you realize I lived my whole life thinking pease porridge was oatmeal?

I mean, I really have to get out more.

I’m sure it’s the word, porridge, that threw me off. I think it’s an American thing to call oatmeal or cream of wheat, or any hot cereal, porridge. How deceiving! Somebody, notify the Mush Police!

Anyhow, pease supposedly comes from the Old English, pise, and the Latin, pisum. Basically, it was a collective term for mushy cooked vegetables. You know how it is with peas. They hang in groups. Just as well. Any time a pea is on its own, it gets into trouble, usually lodging itself in a child’s nostril, or gleefully hurtling itself from a shooter.

As with many familiar nursery rhymes, the exact origin of Pease Porridge Hot is unknown, but it does date back to Medieval times. Dried peas, water, salt and other spices simmered for hours in a big kettle hung over a fire. Sometimes other vegetables were added, if available, with pork or bacon for flavor. The peasants ate this day in, day out, since they couldn’t afford meat. Each morning they added more liquid to the pot, in order to extend the porridge for one more meal. It’s unlikely, but not wholly inconceivable, that the porridge lasted a full nine days.

In 19th century England, hot pease pudding was sold by street vendors. It was originally associated with the industrial Northeastern part of the country, especially around Newcastle. Now it is more widely available, and sometimes sold in butcher shops, since it is often eaten with pork.

You probably guessed that pease porridge, pudding, or pottage (how very British!) is the precursor to our modern day split pea soup. It’s still a thick affair, but not as viscous as the original pease pudding, which supposedly resembled hummus.

Now I’m definitely in the mood for some split pea soup, since the weather has turned cold. Here are two recipes: the first is from the Mother Goose Cookbook (illustrated by last week’s guest, Carol Schwartz), and the second is one that can be made in the crock pot (ideal for writers who don’t want to keep watching the stove). Try the first recipe for an authentic Mother Goose experience, the second, if you’re simply after soup.

Laura Ingalls Wilder said she liked her pease porridge hot or cold, but it never lasted in their house for very long.

(makes 4 cups)

1 cup dried green split peas
3 cups cold water
1 tsp salt
1 peeled medium yellow onion, studded with 2 whole cloves
1 tsp fresh marjoram, or 1/2 tsp dried
1 tsp fresh tarragon, or 1/2 tsp dried
1/4 tsp black pepper
3 T unsalted butter
1. Place split peas and water into a 2-quart heavy-bottom saucepan. Add salt and onion. Bring peas to a boil and simmer uncovered over low heat for 1 hour. Thin with additional water as needed; mixture should be thick but not dry.

2. Remove onion with a slotted spoon. Discard cloves and return onion to pot. Add marjoram, tarragon and pepper. Cook very slowly on very low heat 1 hour more, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. The mixture should be very thick, but again water may be added if it’s too dry.

3. If desired, transfer porridge to a food processor and puree 1 minute. Add salt, if necessary. Spoon into heated bowls and dot with butter or plain yogurt.

(6 servings)


2 cups dried split peas
2 quarts water
1 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup sliced celery
1 ham hock or 1/4 pound salt pork
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
6 whole peppercorns

Soak peas in water overnight. Combine all ingredients in crock pot. Cover with water. Cook on low 10-12 hours, or on high 5-6 hours. (Soup may be thinned with hot milk if too thick.)



Tomorrow:  Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater



13 thoughts on “pease porridge, please

  1. I so love split pea soup. I’ll have to make some soon, I think. Usually, I use a recipe from an Amish cookbook I have, and it’s pretty much foolproof.
    A question about the crock pot version: Does it turn out okay, or does it get all thick and sticky around the sides and on the bottom?


  2. I’m afraid the stickiness is inevitable with the crock pot version, but the thickness can always be adjusted to your liking, with more water or some milk. Is your Amish recipe for the stove top? Does it call for more spices?


  3. We have a good friend who always invites us over for green pea soup. I hope he believes me when I pass on that second bowl because I want to save room for dessert. 😛


  4. Oh, sorry, no, I guess I didn’t make myself clear. Yes, I’m lucky to have a good friend, but when he asks me if I want a second bowl, well, I just *say* I’m saving room for dessert because the truth is, I don’t like his green pea soup.
    Hmm, maybe I should give him one of your recipes.


  5. Oh, now I get it. It’s pretty hard to mess up pea soup. I’m thinking even the best of recipes wouldn’t help this poor pea soup man. Have you invited him over for bavarian cream bread? 🙂


  6. Yum. I copied the crock pot recipe. I’m looking forward to making it. Especially as my last crock pot recipe was a bust: Mexican Chicken. NO ONE in my family (except me) liked it! I won’t bother posting it.
    So, how did the Amish recipe look?


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