A wry view of life for the world-weary

Tales From The Nursery – Part Twenty Five


Pease Pudding Hot

This rather odd ditty is both a nursery rhyme and a children’s game, at least it was in the days when children interacted socially in playgrounds rather than stared at screens. The most common version goes “Pease porridge hot, pease porridge hot/ 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”. The earliest printed version appeared in the form of a riddle in John Newberry’s Mother Goose’s Melody of 1760 and consisted of the first two lines of the common version followed by a riddle of the smart alec sort that amuses children, “Spell me that in four letters/ I will, T H A T”. It is surprising it recovered after that start!

The game is simple enough and involves a pair of children clapping their hands or their partner’s or their thighs at different junctures of the rhyme. An innocent pastime, to be sure, which amused many a child in days of yore.

As to what it is all about, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that the subject matter is pease pudding. This was a common dish in days of yore, consisting of a thick porridge, normally light yellow in colour and fairly mild in taste. The main ingredients were soaked yellow split peas soaked in a stock and cooked with a flavouring of salt for around 40 minutes. The good thing about it was that it would last and so a large pot of the stuff would provide sustenance for a number of days and was relatively palatable whether served warm or cold. It was also known as pease pottage or pease pudding.

The dish is popular in Germany where it goes under a number of names, but principally Erbspüree or Erbsenpüree or Erbsbrei. In Greece Fava is normally made from yellow split peas while in Beijing Wandhouhuang, a sweetened and chilled pease pudding, was reputedly a favourite dish of the Empress Dowager Cixi.

Pease pudding goes well with ham or bacon or stottie cakes but, probably, at the time that the rhyme gained currency, the poor and the workers probably ate it on its own. To have to live on pease porridge day in and day out was a grim prospect but there were some nutrients in it and it was better than the alternative, starving.

There is a village in Sussex called Pease Pottage. Inevitably, there has been a lot of speculation as to how it got its unusual name and some have suggested that it was a consequence of the custom of serving pease pottage to convicts making their way from London to the south coast and from East Grinstead to Horsham gaols. This sounds fanciful not least because the Brighton road did not exist at the time the village name was first recorded and the village was not a logical stopping point between the two local jails.

The name Pease Pottage Gate first appears on a map in 1724 and the Gate element of the name was dropped by 1877. The gate probably originally separated St Leonard’s Forest from Tilgate Forest but following the introduction of turnpikes in 1771 it operated as a tollgate. The village’s quaint name may just be a reference to the muddy terrain surrounding the gate which some thought resembled the popular gruel, pease pottage. We will never know for sure.

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