In the 1995 book The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, Terence Scully apparently talks a lot about how European medievals coped with Lent. Back then, we Latin Catholics had the same tough fasting regulations as Eastern Catholics do. In other words, it was forty days without milk, butter, lard, or eggs, as well as without meat.
It is well known that medieval cooks used almond milk as a dairy substitute.
What Scully points out is that there was also a butter substitute, and it wasn’t olive oil. (Olive oil was used more like shortening, at least by Northern European cooks who usually stuck to butter.)
The butter substitute was “pea-paste,” also known as “pea butter.” It was so common that medieval cookbooks don’t even bother to tell you how to make it. You already knew. And even peasants could afford pea butter. Food historians were a bit mystified.
Cut to modern times. Apparently the techie foodies have rediscovered pea butter. (Of course they do it with a centrifuge running for hours, but the medieval peasant version wouldn’t have been quite so pure and perfection-happy. It was probably more like pea guacamole.)
How do you make it?
First, take peas, preferably nice sweet green spring peas. (Fresh or frozen, or possibly dried and reconstituted if you’re medieval and the spring peas haven’t sprouted yet. The foodies say it actually works better with frozen peas.)
Mash and beat the heck out of the peas, or stick them in your blender. (Or your centrifuge, in which case you should add water.)
Strain out the pea solids, like the skins, and the pea juices that are too sloppy. (Or watch them magically separate in your centrifuge.)
Everything else is pea butter.You can eat it on bread, or even cook with it to a limited extent. (Obviously it will burn a lot faster than real butter.)
(And if you don’t feel like straining out the skins, I guess you don’t have to; it will be tasty pease-camole. But it might be a lot more spreadable if you get out the cheesecloth. Medieval cooks loved straining things, I’m telling you.)
So… if you are an Eastern Catholic who wants to get in touch with your European side, or if you are a Latin/Roman Rite Catholic with kids or a blender that need occupation, you can make pea butter for Lent. Or just for spring yumminess.
If you don’t like green butter or you’d rather not get out the blender/minions, here’s a modern recipe for a peanut butter substitute, a “roasted pea butter” made with yellow peas. It seems pretty simple. The agave would definitely make it sticky like peanut butter. (But then, so would sugar.)
Not to be confused with butter peas, which I think are a New World vegetable.