Where does Pease Pudding come from? And how did it become so popular in the North East?

Pease pudding is a savoury paste made from legumes, mashed yellow split peas, coupled with water and some spices. Pease Pudding is seen as a traditional food in Sunderland and the North East of England, where it usually eaten as part of a sandwich with ham or bacon. It is also part of the popular Saveloy dip with sausages. But what is the story behind this dish? Where did its name come from? And how exactly did it become so popular in the North East?

Pease pudding is in fact one of the few English foods that originated in and continued on from the Middle Ages. While other dishes such as Fish & Chips, or Chicken Tikki Masala, are a product of globalisation and trade, Pease Pudding is authentically native, presumably as it was so simple to make. While the specific location of its origin is unclear and nor did it have the same name at that point in history, the recipe was once popular throughout the whole country. However, starting in the modern era, its popularity declined in the rest of England and it became strongly associated with the North East, where it became a part of local identity.

The reason why stems from two factors, one: Quakers, and two: Industrialisation. What may surprise you is that the specific name Pease, is derived in fact from a family of Quakers of the same name who lived in Darlington in the late 18th century. The Pease family lived in Darlington and created a large mill, known as the Pease Mill. Because Quakers live very simplistic and humble lives, the wider Quaker community who were instrumental in the town’s early industrialisation provided for a lot of people and Pease Pudding proved to be a cheap and effective way to feed its growing work force.

The rapid growth of the town resulted in large amounts of land being used to cultivate split peas around Darlington, and the wider regional effect was that Pease Pudding became a staple of the industrial communities that emerged in the centuries that followed. While this medieval food declined in popularity throughout other areas of Britain, it had effectively intertwined itself to the industrial heartlands of County Durham in support of the working man.

This is the story behind many other North East dishes, such as Stottie Cake where because people were living in poor conditions and had to make use of what food they had, dishes which were cost-effective, simple and yet satisfying subsequently emerged.