Remember, Remember: Bonfire night with Lancashire Black Peas

Here, our reporter Jean reminisces about bonfire night as a child and shares the recipe for black peas – a traditional treat served on Guy Fawkes night in Lancashire. 

Cycling home one day, I spotted a wooden chair with three good legs and one wonky one, on the pavement.

On the other side of the road was a settee. It got me thinking about November 5. We can be forgiven for thinking that fly-tipping is a modern phenomenon, but actually it’s been going on for decades.

At this time of year, not so long ago, neither of these pieces of furniture would have remained at the roadside for very long.

Children would have been scouring the streets for discarded pieces of furniture for many weeks. The build-up to Guy Fawkes Night started in the long summer holidays.

More stuff was made of wood back then compared to today, so a lot of stuff was fair game when it came to Bonfire night scavenging. Most houses on this estate had wooden gates and occasionally these would go missing only to be found on the growing pile of wood waiting for the late Autumn night to arrive.

My Dad was having none of it. Drilling a hole in the top of the bracket that held our gate he was able to save our gate from a fiery ending by pushing a split pin through the hole once the gate was back on its hinges, preventing it from being lifted off.

As summer moved into Autumn, gardeners and householders were glad of the chance to donate tree cuttings, broken garden furniture and anything unwanted that could be safely burnt.

In the late 50s, a few settees that were being got rid of had foam in them – there would be the occasional article in local papers like the Oldham Chronicle about a gang of youngsters who had acquired a discarded settee only to find lots of banknotes stuffed under the cushions.

When a posse was out on the scrounge, one youngster would be nominated to guard the already collected fuel. This was because rival gangs would raid other bonfires. An old sofa came in useful for this lone foot soldier to lounge about on.

In the cotton spinning towns of the North West, bonfires could reach an enormous size after skips from the mills had been collected. If you have got a picture in your head of modern metal skips being piled up, think again. Mill skips were big weaved willow oblong baskets that held the full cops or bobbins from the ring spinner or mule spinner ready to go to the weaving shed.

The police didn’t have anything better to do than guard this bonfire on Oldham Edge at the end of the 19th century.

On this estate, there wasn’t much spare money and unlike many English towns, youngsters in Oldham didn’t often stand on street corners with a ‘Guy’ in an ‘Owd Pram’ hoping for a bit of spare change to buy fireworks with.

From too early in the year, children would go door to door singing ‘We come a cob coaling for bonfire neet’. The song reflected in the last line of the song the poverty many families experienced ‘If you aven’t got a penny an ‘appne will do, if you aven’t got an ‘appney God bless you.

Amazingly, children made their own fireworks – Blue Peter giving instructions out one year on how to do so. It’s no wonder that injuries happened each year, a boy in my year at secondary school badly damaged his hand.

Food has always got to accompany any Northern gathering and I still marvel at how our mums and aunties could rustle up a feast from next to nothing. Treacle Toffee, Toffee Apples and Parkin were favourites on Bonfire Night.

Parkin is a traditional ginger cake from Northern England flavoured with molasses, oatmeal and wintery spices.

Potatoes that were supposed to be put into the embers of the dying fire to cook would be placed at the bottom of the bonfire before it was lit. Inevitably, the potato was covered in an inch of charcoal or there was nothing left of it at all. We never learnt.

The one food I found strange and never took to was Black Peas. These are also called Perched Peas or Dapple Peas. Here’s what to do with them.

  • Soak a cup of black Peas (around 150g) for 24 hours
  • Drain and cover with plenty of salted water
  • Boil quickly and simmer for about an hour until the skins start to drop off
  • Make sure that they are soft and cooked through
  • Add loads of brown malt vinegar and a bit of salt

The name Perched Peas comes from the cooking water almost being boiled off.

A quick check of the internet shows there are still plenty of places to buy uncooked peas and plenty of recipes. Enjoy.

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