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Mushy Peas Barrie's Blog | Barrie Mahoney

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

Mushy Peas

I read recently that due to the country’s financial situation, many people who are used to eating avocado on toast are now turning to eating mushy peas on toast, as a cheaper alternative. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, I say; I adore mushy peas!

Mushy peas are sometimes, very occasionally known as ‘Yorkshire Caviar’. I really don’t know why, and I prefer the term ‘mushy peas’ anyway. It is what it says. Mushy peas are the surviving remnants of medieval and earlier British diets. Peas are harvested in late summer, and dried peas can be stored all year. They were once our main source of home-grown protein.

It is strange how a particular smell can trigger memories from long ago. We opened a tin of mushy peas yesterday, and the first time that I have seen or eaten mushy peas for many years. In those days mushy peas would appear occasionally on our family menu. I remember the peas being small, hard, bullet-like things, to which my Mum added a magical tablet that I was told was to stop the peas discolouring. As I recall, I rather enjoyed them, but there were times when Mum overcooked them and they looked disgusting, but they always tasted good.

Mushy peas also brought back very fond memories of my Uncle Cyril and Auntie Annie. They owned and ran a fish and chip shop in a small Lincolnshire town. By all accounts it was very popular with the locals, and I can see why. My Uncle Cyril, who was my father’s brother, was a very jolly, friendly character. He was a thin man who smoked like a trooper, had an amazing sense of humour, and made a kind of repressed squelching sound whenever he laughed, which seemed to be most of the time. He wore very thick pebble glasses as his eyesight was so poor; a family trait that I have inherited. As a child, I loved his company, maybe because he looked a bit like a slimmer, much jollier version of my father. Auntie Annie was a very plump, ‘round’ busy lady, with a ready smile and a loud, booming voice. I can easily see why this couple were so popular with their customers, and why their ‘frying nights’ were, I suspect, very profitable.

We often used to visit Cyril and Annie on Saturday afternoons. I was never sure whether they were expecting us or not but, looking back, I now see that it was a little thoughtless of us to visit on a Saturday afternoon, just after their busy lunchtime and before an even busier evening. We used to enter the building by a side door, and if we turned left, we would enter the fish and chip shop. It was a strange, rather bleak room with a massive pale green and metal fryer at one end of the room and bare wooden floors, long trestle tables and benches filling the rest of the room. There was always the lingering smell of fish and chips floating out of the room and into the narrow corridor. If we turned right, we would enter the small living room, which was dominated by a large upright piano, which no one ever played to my knowledge. I can still see Auntie Annie perched on the edge of the piano stool in my mind’s eye.

In the small entrance there would always be a large metal container full of mushy peas that were cooking for the evening opening. I loved the smell, and always wished Aunt and Uncle would present me with a plate of chips and mushy peas, which sadly they never did. Indeed, I don’t recall ever eating fish and chips from their restaurant. They would politely entertain us in their small living room with a cup of tea, when my Dad and Uncle Cyril chatted and laughed together. Although Dad was very different in his attitude and behaviour to Uncle Cyril, they clearly enjoyed each other’s company. It was good to see Dad laughing heartily at Uncle Cyril’s jokes and teasing, although I often sensed that my Mum was more irritated than amused at their schoolboy humour. She would soon make her regular excuse “We’d better be going soon, as we have to let Sally out and feed her” or whatever the current excuse would be. Sally was our corgi, who would probably be just fine for several hours, but she always provided Mum with a good excuse to leave whenever she felt uncomfortable or wanted to escape a situation. It is a very useful strategy to remember and use when appropriate, but only if you have a dog. I am sure that as pleased as they were to see us, Annie and Cyril would have been relieved to see us leave, since they would have had a very busy Saturday evening’s frying ahead.

So, there we are, don’t worry if you cannot afford avocado on toast, try mushy peas on toast instead. I highly recommend it.

© Barrie Mahoney 2024

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