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Food has always been an important subject in our family. Sometimes there was little. There have been times when we could splash out on extravagant meals. Here are some of the recipes which have found their way into the regular kitchen repertoire.

Weights are given in traditional British "Imperial" units. For those more used to metric, 1 pound (lb) is about 450g. There are 16 ounces (oz) to the pound.

Pea Soup


Dried peas are a staple in Lancashire, and they used to be a staple in other parts of the country too. Before the arrival of potatoes from the New World, they formed the basis of diet for much of the population. People could not afford much meat, and peas were easy to grow on a small plot of land. Peas could also be easily dried and so preserved for use in winter.

Here we are talking not of "garden peas", which are these days mostly bought frozen, but the larger "field peas", often referred to as "marrowfat peas".

Proper Pea Soup and Mushy Peas are closely related, differing mostly in the amount of liquid used.

I once heard a prominent restaurant critic being completely unfamiliar with proper mushy peas; he thought that the term referred to "petit pois" mashed into a paste.

This soup uses a ham pestle for extra flavour. This is a cheap cut, the narrow end cut off the more expensive ham. Other names for it include ham shank, ham hock and ham knuckle.

This is a slow-cooked dish. Dishes which can be left to cook very slowly were very popular in Lancashire, where the housewife was very often out at work for most of the day, bringing in a much needed wage.


  • 1 Ham pestle
  • 2lb Dried marrowfat peas
  • 1 tsp Bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 Onion, finely chopped
  • Salt to taste

You will also need a large pan to cook it in - big enough to hold the pestle. We use a large cast-iron pot.

All quantities and cooking times are approximate.


  1. Put the peas in the cooking pot and cover with boiling water. Put plenty of water in, because the peas will swell (you can top up later if the peas break surface).
  2. Add the bicarbonate of soda, which helps the peas soften. If you don't have any, just leave the peas longer.
  3. Leave for at least three hours (ideally overnight), then drain. You should just be able to squash a pea between your finger and thumb.
  4. Add the pestle and the onion to the pan.
    Pea Soup 1

  5. Add water. You probably won't be able to cover the pestle fully.
    Pea Soup 2

  6. Bring to the boil and then simmer for half an hour. Stir occasionally.
  7. Turn the pestle over so both sides get cooked.
  8. Simmer until peas are soft - about another half hour. Stir occasionally.
    Pea Soup 3

  9. Remove the ham pestle.
  10. Check the seasoning and adjust as necessary. Some pestles can be salty, so do not add any salt before this point.
  11. If you want "Pea and Ham" soup, shred some of the meat from the pestle and add it to the soup.
  12. Add water to get the consistency you want, and cook for a few minutes more.

There is quite a bit of good meat on a ham pestle, so you end up with tasty ham for sandwiches as well as a really hearty soup. As with any soup, it is a good policy to make a large quantity, then freeze some in containers so that you can have a warm meal at short notice.

Black peas (also known as pigeon peas and carlin peas) are cooked in a similar fashion.

Lancashire Sea Pie


My mum learned this dish from her mother. She in turn probably learned it from my great grandmother.
The name Sea Pie apparently has nothing much to do with the sea, although this is the type of dish which could easily be prepared on board a fishing trawler and provide a satisfying meal when the crew got below decks. The usual theory is that the name derives from the french "six pâtes", although this version is very much a Lancashire one. I can find no other recipe for sea pie which includes peas, in fact the others I have found are grand dishes made with layers of different meats.

The dish can be cooked entirely on the stove top, or finished in a low oven. The timings and quantities are approximate; these things are done by eye. You can vary the proportions quite a bit and it still works well, so I'm sure earlier generations used more peas and less meat.

This is a slow-cooked dish.


  • 1/2lb Minced beef
  • 1lb Dried marrowfat peas
  • 1 tsp Bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 Onion, finely chopped
  • 4oz Flour
  • 2oz Suet
  • Salt and pepper

You will need either a large oven-proof dish or a large pan if cooking it on the stove top. Either way you need a lid. We use a large cast-iron pot.


  1. Put the peas in the cooking pot and cover with boiling water. Put plenty of water in, because the peas will swell. You can top up later if the peas break surface.
  2. Add the bicarbonate of soda, which helps the peas soften. If you don't have any, just leave the peas longer.
  3. Leave for at least three hours (preferably overnight), then drain.
  4. Add the mince and onion.
  5. Add water to cover, pepper and salt to taste. About half a teaspoonful of salt is reasonable, but you can add more later if liked.
    Pea Soup 1

  6. Bring to the boil.
  7. Put the lid on and move to a low oven (about 130C, 270F) or turn the hob right down and simmer until peas are soft - about an hour.
  8. Stir occasionally and top up with water if needed. The finished mixture should be sloppy.
  9. About 1/2 hour before serving, check the seasoning.
  10. Now place the suet crust on top of the mixture. Push it around so that it seals against the side of the dish or pan if you can.
    Pea Soup 1

  11. Cook for the last half hour. If the lid is on the crust will be soft. We prefer a bit more texture, so lid off.
    Pea Soup 1

For the suet crust:
  1. Mix the flour and suet in a bowl.
  2. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Dribble water in, mixing all the time, until the mixture just sticks together.
  4. Roll out the suet pastry to make a crust large enough to cover the top of the mince and peas mixture.


Liver and Onions


Liver is not well thought of in most of Britain, but liver-and-onions was standard fare in Lancashire homes, and still is in many. Many people's only exposure to liver has been when it has been badly cooked. If you try to cook a typical piece the outside will be like leather before the middle is done.

I don't know why people turn their noses up at the prospect of liver, because those same people will happily scoff the same part of the animal when it is labelled "paté".

The best way to cook it (pig's liver is my favourite) is to heat a frying pan and cook the piece of liver for about 20 seconds, so as to colour the surface. Then move the piece to a board and take off a thin slice with a carving knife. Make the slice as thin as you can - it will now be firm enough to let you do this. Colour the other side of the slice and then put it to one side on a plate. Return the big piece to the pan and repeat until you have a pile of thin slices. When it is time to serve, the slices only need heating through, for example in onion gravy.

Making good onion gravy used to be quite a long job, but these days supermarkets sell a pretty decent base for gravy in the form of granules. Sweat a couple of sliced onions in oil or butter, then add an appropriate amount of the granules and water to give the consistency you like.

Then return the slices of liver to the pan, warm them through for a minute or so, and serve.

Irish Fruit Loaf


My mum took this from a newspaper around the time I was born. The writer claimed that they had made the cake for many years and it never failed. It's never failed in our house either.

Mum has given this recipe to loads of people - she says the first one was my older brother's primary school teacher, in about 1958. It only seems fair to keep passing it on.

In a bowl, put

  • 1 lb of dried fruit - currants, raisins, glacé cherries, candied peel etc.
  • 8 oz of sugar
  • 1 cup of warm tea - you can substitute booze for some or all of the tea if you like.

Stir, cover, and leave to steep overnight.

Next day stir in

  • 1 egg (2 if they are small)
  • 2 tablespoons of marmalade
  • 1 teaspoon of mixed spice
  • 1 lb of self-raising flour.

You end up with a thick cake batter, strong enough so the fruit does not settle out while the cake is baking.

Line a 2 lb loaf tin, pour in the mixture and cook in a low oven (140C) for about an hour and three quarters. We normally use a pair of 1 lb tins, and the time is about 15 minutes less.

Remove from the tin and leave to cool. Like most fruit cakes, leaving it in a cake tin for a couple of weeks to mature is good.

Slice as needed. We like ours with butter, but it is still excellent without. Note that there is no fat in the list of ingredients.
Pea Soup 1

Potato Cakes


Potato Cakes are often seen for sale in Lancashire, but there don't seem to be published recipes for them. They are related to the "tattie scones" popular in Scotland, and I'm sure there's something similar in Ireland.

They are cheap to make, but take a little labour. Because the ingredients are cheap, the bought ones seem expensive by comaparison.


  • 2lb Potatoes, suitable for mashing, such as King Edward.
  • 2oz Lard. I'm sure other fats would work, but we like the flavour in our potato cakes.
  • 2lb Plain flour.
  • Salt and pepper

All the quantities are approximate. We mix things until they feel "about right".


  1. Peel the potatoes, cut into chunks and boil in salted water, exactly as for making mashed potatoes.
  2. When the potatoes are cooked, mash them, adding pepper and enough lard to make a mash which just holds together. The more lard you use, the more flour you will need to add later.
  3. Gradually mix in the flour. This can be done with a fork early on, but later it is easier to tip it out onto a board or clean work surface and knead the mixture. This can be done hot or cold, but is a lot more comfortable when cool.
  4. Keep adding flour and kneading until you have a dough which is firm enough to roll out. If it's too sticky, knead in some more flour and try again.
  5. Roll out quantities of the dough to about 3/8 inch (1 cm) thick, and use a cutter to produce rounds about 3 inches (7 cm) diameter. I understand that the Scottish variants are usually made as right-angled triangles.
  6. Place the rounds on greased baking trays, or on trays covered by greaseproof paper.
  7. Cook the potato cakes in the oven at 180C (350F) until the tops change colour.
  8. Serve hot with butter to taste.
  9. If you make enough, you may have some left over. If frozen they can be reheated quickly in a microwave as an accompaniment to many dishes.