I always eat my peas with honey; I’ve done it all my life.
They do taste kind of funny, but it keeps them on my knife.
How do you eat your peas?
The appearance of the season’s freshest vegetables is always met with joy. Artichokes, asparagus, garden-fresh lettuce, cucumbers, okra and, of course, vine-ripened tomatoes, to name a few. None of these make me happier than the first sight of fresh, sweet English shelling peas.
This wondrous gift of the earth pleases us year round if you use frozen peas after the plants are through. Fresh, flash-frozen peas continue to deliver outstanding flavor to the table in the bleakest of winters.
When fresh peas aren’t available, Helen Corbitt uses frozen peas.
“I find I fall back on frozen peas and green beans when few good fresh vegetables are available, but I purée them in my blender or put them through a food mill. Peas are peas, but when you purée them and top them with Hollandaise they become Pease!”
Helen Corbitt in The Helen Corbitt Collection
That said, you can only enjoy them fresh, just out of the shell for a few weeks. Popping open the firm, plump pods and setting free those little green globes of sweet earthy flavor are tactile experiences too. And the smell arouses your expectation of the goodness to come.
A bit of pea trivia: In the Oscar-winning movie Driving Miss Daisy, Idella, Miss Daisy’s maid (Esther Rolle) dies suddenly in the kitchen while shelling peas and watching The Edge of Night on television. Her bowl crashes to the floor and peas roll everywhere. (I recommend this movie for your bucket list.)
So simple is the pleasure of peas that simple preparation serves them best. As a matter of fact, they’re like candy just out of the pod.
When I spotted them at the Saturday Farmer’s Market, I joked with a customer buying a bag before me that he should buy two as he probably will wish he had when he gets home. He said they wouldn’t last until he got home!
If you’ve never bought them before, I suggest you buy more than you think you will need. They’re a bit like spinach. Although they don’t cook down like spinach, you lose a lot of volume when they leave their pods.
Thomas Jefferson was well known for his love of English garden peas.
Among the vegetables in Thomas Jefferson’s garden was the English pea, considered to be his favorite. He grew fifteen types of the English pea, and his frequent jottings on the vegetable in his Garden Book suggest that he paid particular attention to it, happily noting when “peas come to table.” By staggering the planting of peas, Jefferson was able to eat them fresh from the garden from the middle of May to the middle of July.
A Neighborhood Contest
Aside from personal preference, Jefferson might have taken special note of the English pea because of an annual neighborhood contest to see which farmer could bring to table the first peas of spring. The winner would host the other contestants in a dinner that included the peas.
Though Jefferson’s mountaintop garden, with its southern exposure to warmth and light, should have provided an advantage, it seems that the contest was almost always won by a neighbor named George Divers.
As Jefferson’s grandson recalled: “A wealthy neighbor [Divers], without children, and fond of horticulture, generally triumphed. Mr. Jefferson, on one occasion, had them first, and when his family reminded him that it was his right to invite the company, he replied, ‘No, say nothing about it, it will be more agreeable to our friend to think that he never fails.’”
Fresh English Peas with Butter and Mint
- Fresh shelled peas
- Fresh mint, cut into a chiffonade
- Salt and fresh ground pepper
The amounts of the above ingredients depend on how many shelled peas you have. Just remember that the peas are the stars and everyone else is supporting players.
- Stack some mint leaves and roll up like a small cigar.
- Slice thinly from one end to the other.
- Add the peas to the pan and add enough salted water to just come to the top of the peas.
- Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring, until most of the water is evaporated.
- Drain the peas, add the butter and mint, stir and remove to a serving bowl.
- Season lightly with salt and pepper.