Saturday, December 12, 2009

Day 3: French Iowtes, or Peas Porridge with Onions

Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot, nine days old.
Some like it hot, some like it cold, some like it in the pot, nine days old.
Nursery Rhyme, origin unknown

Don't worry - these peas are not actually nine days old! In fact, they barely lasted one evening, with a little left over for lunch, as Poppa Trix and I gobbled them up in short order - they were that good.

This is another 600-year-old recipe from Forme of Cury, as interpreted by Gode Cookery. And while I haven't been able to find a direct connection between this dish and the modern British classic mushy peas, what with the mint, mashed up peas, and onion,  I find it hard to believe that none exists.
But despite its apparent connection with modernity, as with so many of these medieval dishes, there is that little twist of unexpected seasoning that causes a brief head-scratching moment. In this case, it's the addition of saffron and powder douce, a spicy, just slightly sweet combination of cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger that gets sprinkled over the peas just before serving.

Once again, Gode Cookery did not provide amounts, and so I fussed with ingredients until the whole lot tasted right.

French Iowtes, or Peas Porridge with Onions
  • 2 cups dried split peas, rinsed (There's no need to soak them.)
  • 12-15 pearl onions, peeled and left whole (if you can't find them fresh, I think either frozen ones or rinsed cocktail onions could work.)
  • An assortment of fresh herbs: parsley, mint, sage, basil, & thyme. I used about 2 tbsp each.
  • 5-7 strands of saffron
  • Powder douce, to taste (see recipe below)
  • butter and/or olive oil, as needed
  • salt, to taste
First, in a deep skillet, gently simmer the dried peas in 4 cups of water until tender. (You may need to add more water if they start to dry out.)  Meanwhile, parboil the herbs, pat them dry, and give them a rough chop. Next, boil the onions until tender.  When the peas are tender, drain excess water if necessary. Mash them up right in the skillet and add the oil and/or butter until moist. Season with salt, add the saffron, herbs, and onions and cook until the flavors come together.  I had to keep adding oil, as the peas sucked up moisture like a sponge. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with powder douce.

Powder Douce
Like powder fort, this was a medieval spice mixture that cooks would have had on hand, much like you might always have Cajun seasoning or herbes de Provence in your spice cupboard. It's simply a combination of cinnamon, sugar, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg or mace. The amounts aren't set in stone, but you don't want it to be too sweet. I was afraid it would impart too much of a cinnamon-y flavor to the dish, but luckily it didn't. In fact, Poppa Trix said that the combination of spices with the savory peas reminded him a bit of Indian cuisine, and I can see his point.

Enjoy your peas in the pot, and please eat them while they're hot and don't wait until they're nine days old! I'll see you on Day 4, when I introduce a little alcohol into the feast. Cheers!


  1. What a great way to liven up peas! I love the powder douce mixture.

  2. So much better than the plain old peas with margarine I used to eat growing up! Did you serve them with a main dish? If so, do tell :)

  3. I want Medieval peas! :D I could eat the whole lot on its own!

  4. These sound so wonderful! I think I'd keep taking "taste" tests throughout, and before you knew it, there'd be none left!

  5. looks delicious 600 years old recipe wow amazing again the green color you captured... this looks like you are having so much fun doing this piece also :) great job Trix

  6. yummmm! I love peas, gonna try that one.

  7. Love those peas, they look like a pea purée and I can see how the spices would completely blend well with the dish.

  8. Wow - I can see the addition of the spices and herbs really enhance these peas....great job again in bringing this recipe to know I'm waiting for tomorrow's recipe...

  9. What a nice lovely idea! I will definitely give this a go.

  10. wow - I have never had anything like that, but I do love peas. THanks for sharing a great recipe.

  11. wonderful recipe! I'm loving the pearl onions in this dish

  12. Wow, your knowledge of all the medieval culinary history is impressive! This dish looks yummy enough to devour, medieval style!

  13. What a fun series you have going here! I really like the color and flavors in this dish.

  14. Thanks all! I love peas in all forms ... but I was afraid that the name "peas porridge" would be off-putting and easily confused with gruel. I'm glad to see there are other pea lovers out there!!

  15. Two words, Ms. Trix: Hell YEAH. :)

  16. I love your Medieval 12 days of Christmas concept. All your recipes look wonderful.

    Pease pudding is on my list of 100 things to cook. I'm using your recipe! Thanks. Great Blog!