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Henley Telegraph (1920) - The History of Pea Eating

"The History of Pea Eating" is a short article written by Alfred Hitchcock and originally published in the Henley Telegraph, December 1920.


Modern science, with its far-reaching effects on the life of the community, has yet one more problem to solve to further the progress of the world—that of eating peas. Considerable speculation has been given to the methods employed in the early ages, and we read of the prehistoric man who simply buried his face in the plate of peas and performed practically an illusion by his act of demolishing the vegetables without the use of his hands.

One must admit, however, that this method may be described as crude, for one can hardly imagine the modern corpulent gentleman attempting the same feat, because of the danger of his excessive "adiposity" reaching the floor before his face reached the plate.

We are told that Sir Roger D'Arcy, in the early Middle Ages, found no great difficulty in the problem. All he did was to attach to the headpiece of his armor a double piece of elastic in the form of a catapult. He simply placed a pea between the piece of leather attached to the elastic and aimed towards his open mouth. But even this method brought inconvenience, for it was soon discovered that there were many gentlemen with a bad aim, and often a duel resulted from the fact that Sir Percy had badly stung the wife of Baron Edgar over the other side of the room. It is believed that an Act was instituted prohibiting the use of this method without a licence, and one had to pass a test to secure the necessary permission to adopt this very ingenious style of feeding.

These restrictions were responsible for the falling off in the popularity of peas, and after a time, they were practically non-existent as an edible vegetable. Many years later, however, their revival brought a great interest to the now famous pea-eating contests, the details of which reveal a further method of manipulation. It appears that each competitor was required to balance a certain number of peas along the edge of a sword, from which he was to swallow the peas without spilling any. Of course, in very exciting matches the contestants' mouths and faces were often cut. It is believed that the performance of sword swallowing was evolved from this feat, and that very large-mouthed people of today are direct descendants from the champions of that period.

As is well known, many estimable people still practise this method on a smaller scale.

Still further styles of deglutition were tried in late years, and the modern boy's pea-shooter recalls the employment of pages to shoot the peas in My Lord's mouth. Bad aim, of course, was reflected with dire results to the page.

We have yet to discover a really useful and satisfactory method of pea eating. A recent inventor evolved a process by which a pipe was placed in the mouth and the peas drawn up by pneumatic means. But in the trials the inventor unfortunately turned on the power in the reverse direction, with the result that the victim's tongue is now much longer than hitherto.

Another person suggested that they might be electrically deposited, but the idea of the scheme was so shocking that it was not considered.

One of the most sensible ways which is at present in the experimental stages is receiving the attention of a well-known market gardener, who is endeavouring to grow square peas so as to eliminate the embarrassing habit which peas have of rolling off the cutlery. It is to be hoped that the experiment will prove successful.

In order to help on this very important scientific development, suggested methods from our readers will be welcomed, and forwarded to the proper authority. Please direct any suggestions to The Manager, THE HENLEY TELEGRAPH.