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Published: Tuesday, 6/24/2008

Sweet Peas: fresh shelled vegetable gives amazing flavor

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR
Fresh shelled peas. Fresh shelled peas.
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Home-grown peas are about as sweet as peas can get.

They taste nothing like canned peas and give new meaning to flavor if all you ve ever eaten are commercial frozen peas.

Because the season is so short and the availability so limited, you re likely to find fresh English peas (or the common garden variety) to buy only at farmers markets or smaller markets that have access to local farms.

For Julie Hagenbuch of Toledo, fresh peas are the benefit of buying into the Dairy House Farm, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) enterprise managed by Ann Mather and Alexandra DeRosa, a mother-daughter team. It is located in Fulton County.

Julie Hagenbuch s Long Grain and Wild Rice Salad with peas.
Julie Hagenbuch s Long Grain and Wild Rice Salad with peas.
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Once a week Ms. Hagenbuch, who usually takes her children Libby, 3, and Carter, 6, with her, drives out to the farm to do her share of work and then pick up her allotted bounty to take home.

Last week she had field greens, arugula, chives, basil, and fresh peas.

Peas are members of the legume family. English peas are grown to be removed from the pod and eaten fresh. Field peas are grown to be used dried. Pod peas such as snow pea and sugar snap pea are eaten pod and all. Pea shoots are tender young stems and leaves harvested from the tips of pea plants (most often snow peas). These are available in Asian markets and sometimes farm markets.

The family likes to eat the English peas right out of the shell. Libby thinks they are candy, says Ms. Hagenbuch, a journalism professor at Bowling Green State University. Usually when we ride home, she ll eat them all if I don t watch her.

She calls Creamy Parmesan Orzo with Peas, our company dish that we make when we have people for dinner. The recipe uses 1 cup shelled peas. Often she doesn t blanch them for 1 minute when she puts them in the dish. Peas are sweeter out of the shell, she says. When you blanch them I think it alters the taste a little. The uncooked, washed peas give the pasta a nice crunchy texture.

She also makes Long Grain and Wild Rice Salad in which the peas are cooked with the other ingredients.

Most of the time, she can t get fresh peas for these favorite recipes because the season is so short - about two weeks - so she ll use frozen.

Ms. Hagenbuch said she had never had fresh peas until last summer when she became involved with the CSA garden. Now I appreciate growing things. When I go out to dinner I understand why they are using arugula in a dish - because it s in season.

The garden has also changed the way she cooks. I used to on a whim say - let s cook burgers , she says. Now I look to see what fresh produce I have and make recipes based on what I have.

During strawberry season, she makes frozen treats for her children by pureeing the fruit and adding yogurt or orange juice to the puree before pouring into a frozen treats mold and freezing.

Community garden

In a CSA you have a garden in which people buy shares in the produce. Some folks contribute labor and pay a little less like Ms. Hagenbuch and her husband Craig who pay $200 for the year for their half-share. Others folks who don t want to do the labor, will pay a little more. In a co-op, everyone has an equal portion. This CSA is limited to 11 families and is full for this year.

We have decided to work only a certain amount of land, says Ms. Mather, who grows everything from greens in the spring to asparagus, broccoli, and peas. It continues producing (depending on the weather) until October and mid-September when we get a frost. Tomatoes keep on producing. Potatoes, winter squash, and pumpkins come on later.

There at least one other CSA in Berkey and another near Whitehouse. There are a whole lot more in Michigan, she says. It s a wonderful way to introduce those who work in the garden to food and for their children to learn about food and that it is more than what comes in a package.

We are also growing sugar snap and snow peas in the edible pod. They are ready to harvest in a couple weeks.

Garden bounty

Ms. Hagenbuch also receives herbs at the garden. She freezes basil in ice cube trays. I dice the basil and put it in water and make basil ice cubes, she says. To use, she defrosts it. I also put them in lemonade-sake basil martinis.

There s a social aspect to the garden. When rhubarb was in season, we e-mailed rhubarb recipes to each other, she says. Now we re heavy into lettuce.

At the end of the summer, she expects tomatoes. We canned last August for the first time, she says. I had bushels of tomatoes. With her mother-in-law (Ginger Charles), she made sauce, soups like Tomato Bisque, chili, and salsa.

Last Christmas she made tomato juice, a family tradition, out of the canned tomatoes.

But my favorite thing to cook is desserts, she says. I love cobblers. I made this killer rhubarb strawberry pie using my mother s recipes. I m very adventurous. Many are my mother s recipes.

When she found her grandmother s Polish coffeecake recipe, my husband and I made it for Easter for the family, she says. Last year we had so many eggplant. So we made eggplant parmesan.

If you are fortunate enough to have fresh peas like Ms. Hagenbuch, you re likely to use them immediately. You can also freeze a bag. In Cook with Jamie, author Jamie Oliver (Hyperion, $37.50) advises adding a handful of peas to your stews, soups and pasta sauces for the last few minutes of cooking to liven up the dish. Before buying peas, bust open a pod or two and eat a few to make sure they are not too big, turning pale, and splitting.

He braises peas with spring onions and lettuce, serves them buttered with crunchy bacon, or makes Minted Peas Under Oil.

When the Blade tested Scallops with Three Peas and Prosciutto from Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes by Jeanne Kelley (Running Press, $35), recipe tester Kay Lynne Schaller could not find the pea sprouts. But the English peas and sugar snap peas made a wonderful dish that smelled fabulously, she said. I measured the ingredients in order and served the dish with angel hair pasta.

Contact Kathie Smith at: food@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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