It is hard to believe that a man of the people like Peter Mandelson really went into a chippie in Hartlepool, as legend would have it, and mistook mushy peas for guacamole. Hard because it isn’t true, which is a pity.
For years the unofficial border between North and South, in English terms, was set by checking where mushy peas were served, and where they were regarded with horror. Which goes to show how far ahead of the dietary curve northerners were – getting one of our five a day along with our daily pie. Things have blurred a little in recent times, and you’ll find the delightful green goo in the Home Counties; even featuring as an arch little twist in some fancy chef’s take on fish and chips.
The basics: they are marrowfat peas; actually rather rich in fibre (hence their tendency to return later in the day or night and haunt the eater), a decent source of protein too with next to no fat. Since Tartrazine (E102) has become somewhat frowned upon, the colour of our peas has mostly drifted down from Kryptonite green to the greyer end of the scale.
Though available in cans for making at home, the proper home of the mushy pea is the chip shop, and probably a Yorkshire one at that: a different flavour and texture with your fish or pie; it is, to use Nigel Slater’s beloved phrase, a comfort food. They are soaked - generally with a pinch of bicarb, or a tablet in the old packet versions – overnight then simmered lengthily, no need for sugar or salt, until they lose their shape and merge into a gloop. An earthy, satisfying gloop almost certainly healthier than guacamole too.