Tuesday, July 21, 2015

pea epiphany

One of the glories of summer is pea vines and their end purpose, peas, and I’m talking about peas safely nestled juicy and tightly in non edible pods, real shelling peas, the only kind I’ve ever grown. Perhaps this phenomenon will be more understandable when I tell you I have never owned a microwave, either. Isn’t that just amazing? I’m a gardening and cooking Luddite.
Leo is the pea-planter. This is because the act of gardening, to Leo, means planting. Never mind the fall cleaning and putting to bed, the seed ordering, the spring weeding, the deciding where things should be located this year as differentiated from past years... no, gardening is for planting, and he starts yearning to put seeds in the ground in April. Plus, he has a somewhat elaborate system of 4 foot tall fencing cylinders that need to be staked down for the peas to grow on, and only Leo knows their secret. And so, this year, when he said he wasn’t going to plant peas because he’d had no luck with them the last couple years, I had already made the bed for them, spring weeds out, soil loosened and quiveringly receptive.
I was disappointed but had done nothing about it when Zoe came out and said, “Did you plant your peas yet?” I gave her the news and she said, “No peas! What nonsense. Do you have any pea-seeds?” I said yes I did but they were two years old, and she said, “What are we waiting for?” So she fetched a bag of compost from the pile by the fence and drizzled a good amount from a cut corner of it in 8 different hills in a row and I worked it into the soil and fetched the seeds and she planted them in eight circles and got her dad to erect his pea towers, all in the time it would have taken Leo and me to argue about whether it was worth it or not.
I swear, each and every one of those peas sprouted and grew, and for the past week that’s all I’ve been doing is picking peas and sitting in the hammock and shucking them and eating them and throwing the shucks in the lilac tangle. Good compost.
Well, that’s not all I’ve been doing but it’s been a pleasurable thing to do.
This year’s peas form just one more story. Here are two I’ve told before but are – in my opinion – worth repeating:
Once, long ago, my friend Carol spent a good long hour or so at our lawn sale sitting on my front stoop shelling peas from her own garden into a big green bowl. Plink, plink, they went, slowly covering the bottom of the bowl. She’s never going to fill that bowl, I thought. But steadily she worked, and steadily the emptied pods towered beside her; slowly the peas mounted in the bowl. That night she served them simply steamed in a lettuce leaf, a pad of sweet butter topping them, salt and pepper, in that same green bowl. The bowl was at most half full. It was a beautiful sight, the peas delicious, and my realization, that something as precious as fresh peas should never overflow, one that I’ve never forgotten.
Isobel G Nimtz drawing
That memory reminds me of M.F.K. Fisher’s paean to peas in An Alphabet for Gourmets, when she recalls a difficult feast enjoyed with family and friends over a campfire on a Swiss mountainside where she and her husband were building a house. I rummage on my bookshelves and settle down to read the passage. “...what really mattered, what piped the high unforgettable tune of perfection were the peas, which came from their hot pot onto our thick china plates in a cloud, a kind of miasma, of everything that anyone could ever want from them, even in a dream. I recalled the three basic requisites, according to Fanny Farmer and Escoffier [they must be very green, they must be freshly gathered, and they must be shelled at the very last second of the very last minute], and again I recalled Sidney Smith, who once said that his idea of Heaven (and he was a cleric!) was pate’ de foie gras to the sound of trumpets. Mine, that night and this night, too, is fresh green garden peas, picked and shelled by my friends, to the sound of a cowbell.”
And that, my dear reader, is the way peas should be shelled – by your friends.
I’ve grown lazy, or at least simplified what can be simplified while retaining the best of itself, and this year I have not shelled peas in any quantity – I have even been known to take a basket of the first ones – fresh picked – to a gathering at the beach for everyone to shell their own.
I did shell enough for two omelets, which was not very many.
Pea-ifany Omelet
Serves 1
Have everything ready before you start because this omelet goes very fast once you pour the egg into a hot pan.
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 2 large eggs, whisked with a fork until not stringy
  • 1/3 cup freshly shelled peas
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated gruyere (or other) cheese
  • 2 tablespoons freshly picked mint, chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Heat a small skillet or omelet pan – about 9 inches – over high heat until hot, then add the olive oil and butter and heat until hot. Pour the eggs in all at once and with a spatula lift the edges all around and tilt the pan to let the liquid flow under the cooked egg just until semi-solid then sprinkle in the peas, cheese and mint, cook for a moment and then carefully fold the omelet in half with the spatula and let cook another minute. Very carefully flip the omelet onto the other side and cook a moment more, then slide onto a plate, sprinkle with the salt and pepper, garnish with a bit more mint and/or cheese and serve.
When I’m serving more than one omelet, I cook each one consecutively.
But here is what has become one of my favorite ways of treating those peas:  pick a big mess of them and throw them all at once – unshelled – into a very hot, dry, wok and stir fry them until they are charred and juicy, then toss them with plentiful coarse sea salt, put them into a big bowl and take them to the beach as your offering. You eat them like you eat an artichoke leaf or edamame, scraping the tender peas and juices out with your teeth and discarding the pod. Make sure the discarded pods are plainly identified as inedible, and, um, Used!

So that’s about it for peas for another year. I’m going to invite three little girls who really enjoyed eating the charred peas from the pod the other night to come over some day next weekend and help me harvest the last of them. We’ll toss them in a hot wok and perhaps have another epiphany! 

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