“I SAW your pease pudding piece about peas,” says the alliterative Biddy Breen alliteratively, “and wondered if you know of Carlin Sunday in Lent?

“I remember when I lived in the Stokesley area, neighbours used to mention Carlin Sunday and it was something to do with eating peas on that day. I wondered if you would be able to find out more about it, please?”

The Northern Echo: CARLING SUNDAY..Carling Sunday at The Globe in Caldewgate, Carlisle, a tradition carried on for many years on Passion Sunday, when carling (or carlin) peas were cooked with salt and vinegar and eaten with bread. Here they are being served straight from

By happy coincidence, tomorrow is Carlin Sunday – the fifth Sunday in Lent.

That may be the only fact in this particular story, even though this is a peculiarly North-East day of commemoration.

Mike Amos in his Gadfly columns used to recite the playground rhyme by which children learned the names of the Sundays in Lent:

"Tid, mid, miserai, carlin, palm, paste-egg day. We shall have a holiday, bonny frocks on Easter Day."

It seems that the first Sunday of Easter doesn’t feature in this rhyme, but tid, mid and misere get their names come from the Latin mass: Te Deum, Mi Deus and Miserere mei.

No one knows where “carlin” comes from. Some people reckon it comes from the word “caring” as, having honoured mothers on the fourth Sunday, attention switched to caring for other ancestors on the fifth Sunday before Palm Sunday and then the eggs of Easter Sunday.

The Northern Echo: Dried maple peas saved Newcastle from the Scots and were eaten on Carlin Sunday

Or it may have come from an old verb “carl” meaning “to dry or parch”, because it was dried peas – “carlins” - that were consumed on Carlin Sunday. These may have been the only food left after a long winter, or they may have been eaten as a miserable form of penance to fit in with the abstinence theme of Lent.

This tradition may have started in 1327 when Robert the Bruce and his Scots were besieging Newcastle. The starving Novacastrians were saved on Palm Sunday when a shipload of dried peas – perhaps sailed by Captain Karlin – arrived from Norway. Fortified by the carlins, the defenders fought off the Scots who went and attacked Durham instead.

Or it may have started during the Civil War in 1644 when, from February 3 to October 27, another army of Scots besieged the Royalist forces in Newcastle. This time, Captain Karlin arrived with a boatload of peas from France to save the day.

Other versions of the story have a ship of peas, sometimes captained by Mr Karlin and sometimes not, being wrecked in time of famine off Berwick, Hartlepool, Staithes or even Carlin How.

The ship seems to have been carrying an unusual cargo of maple peas, from Canada. These are also known as “pigeon peas”, because they are fed to birds. Fishermen also use them as bait for carp and bream.

The Northern Echo: Gary Jefferson, of Jefferson's deli in Richmond, revived Carlin Sunday peas in 2013

So, traditionally, it was dried maple peas that were consumed on Carlin Sunday. They were steeped overnight on Friday on saltwater and then boiled in bacon fat on the Saturday so that they were ready to eat, either hot or cold, on the Sunday, when they were served in a paper funnel with a sprinkling of salt and pepper, a splash of vinegar or a drizzle of rum.

In the 20th Century, the tradition began to die out, although it seems to have clung on in pubs. With all pubs now closed, perhaps the pandemic will kill off a North-East tradition that may be 700 years old and could have been started by Captain Karlin.

CURIOUSLY, the pubs of East Cleveland were one of the last strongholds of Carlin Sunday. Could this have been because Captain Karlin was shipwrecked off Carlin How?

Probably not. Carlin How as a place name has nothing to do with carlins. A how was a hill and a “kerling” was an Old Norse word for a “woman, hag or witch”. Perhaps Carlin How was a hill owned by an old crone, or perhaps it was a raised area where witches were reputed to gather…