Monday, July 15, 2013

Peas, Please

The Acadian gardener from across the street took one look at the system of stakes and netting installed in our backyard and suggested that I've gone overboard, planting 22 double rows of peas.  Last year's crop was so delicious that I decided to go big in 2013 and build on beginner's luck. I listed my reasons for loving peas.

  • they like cold weather
  • they are fast-growing and early to harvest
  • they do not attract insect pests
  • they contain saponins, a healthy blend of phytonutrients with anti-oxidant properties
  • they add nitrogen to the soil, replenishing the garden for next year
  • they can be blanched and frozen  (much easier than canning)
  • they taste so green

Perfect peas

In order to deal with the bumper harvest we set up a pea-shelling station in the garage.   Robert constructed a work table from a sheet of plywood and some old pallets.  On these hot, humid, July afternoons it is pleasant to sit on a high stool absorbed in the hands-on, repetitive task of shelling peas while listening to a symphony of lawn mowers and weed-cutters performed by the neighbours.  It's not as gentle and pastoral as the tinkle of cowbells that M.F.K. Fisher associates with pea-picking in the Swiss Alps in her "Alphabet for Gourmets", but the drone of lawn maintenance machinery is the typical soundtrack for this exceptionally verdant Canadian summer.

Timing is important to make sure that the natural sugar in the peas doesn't turn starchy, a loss that can ruin the flavour within a few hours of picking.  The fresh peas are rushed to the kitchen, blanched for two minutes in boiling water, chilled in a sink of ice and packed into freezer bags.

Cooling off

 I was thrilled to find a simple recipe in a Swiss cookbook that makes good use of the empty pods.  As the harvest is processed,  I prepare large batches of this soup and freeze it without the addition of cream (that rich ingredient is entirely optional, and can be added later, if you wish, at the time of serving).  In the middle of January, a bowl of pea soup will bring back the joy of mid-summer bounty; the memory of a mountain of crisp pods in a wicker basket on a makeshift harvest table.

Swiss Peapod Soup

6 cups pea pods, topped and tailed
1 tbsp. butter or margarine
5 small onions, chopped
4 large outside lettuce leaves
6 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup cream
salt and pepper
chives for garnish

Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat, add the onions, cover and let them sweat for 8-10 minutes. Do not brown.  Add the peapods, lettuce and stock to the pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered for 20 minutes or until tender.  Puree the mixture with a stick blender or food processor.   Strain the fibrous strings from the soup by pressing through a sieve.  To serve hot, return to the pot, add cream, salt and pepper, and reheat without boiling. To serve cold, chill for 2 hours, swirl in the cream, sprinkle with chopped chives.

Lunch is served at the Peabody residence

"If even a few of the pea pods begin to ripen, young pods will not only cease to form but those partly advanced will cease to enlarge... It is inexcusable that a gentleman, having a garden of his own, should be served with peas otherwise than in the very highest state of perfection, which they are not, if allowed to become too old, or too large."                                      

- Fearing Burr Jr., "The Field and Garden Vegetables of America," 1863

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