One of the first crops to come ripe every year is sweet peas. As I was picking and weeding my way through the pea patch I was reflecting on just how much work goes into a dish of peas and wondering why I bother to grow them.
First the soil needs to be tilled. Then you wait a few days for the weed seedlings to come up. Then you till a second time. Then you plant your peas. After a few weeks you have pea plants that are 4-6 inches tall. You must then set up some kind of trellis for them to climb up. Over the next few weeks you intermittently weed the bed and put the errant peas back on the trellis so they climb up instead of hitting the ground.
After this is done you will be rewarded by the sight of beautiful white flowers beginning to form. At this stage at our farm is when the deer come and eat a bunch of your plants down to stumps. When the remaining flowers are open the bees and other winged friends come and spend many hours going from flower to flower gathering nectar and pollinating the peas. The fertilized pea flowers then begin to grow into pods. As they ripen and fill out till eventually you have a perfectly ripe plump pea pod nearly bursting with sweet green peas.
It takes a few dozen peas to make up a single pint of peas. It takes me about an hour to pick a dozen pint of peas (hopefully I will get faster at this task). Furthermore you must pick very thoroughly because if any pods become full mature on a plant, that plant will stop producing new pods.
So you come to the market and you buy this pint of fresh peas to take home and cook, (Actually I advise buying 2 or 3 because it seems if you walk more than 30 minutes to get home with a pint of fresh peas you will likely eat them all raw and have now left for dinner,) you must then go home and spend 20 minutes or more shelling that single pint of peas. Not really that horrible if you do it with a good glass of sauvignon Blanc and some good company, but still time consuming. So now you have got yourself about 4 Tablespoons of fresh green peas. Its actually rather shocking after all the hours that went into it to see how little you really get from a volume stand point. Hours of work spent for just a few tablespoons? To our modern mind this hardly seems like an efficient use of time especially when you can get pre-shelled frozen peas available any time of year, but let me assure you that no supermarket pea will ever taste like it. The pea comes in it own perfect little container, the pod. If you take it out before you are ready to eat it, its wonderful essence just fades away unrealized. And that’s not even mentioning what happens to the texture when you freeze it.
So you shelled out your $3 for a pint of fresh peas and spent all that time to prepare them and you finally sit down at dinner. You look down at your little bowl of lightly steamed peas glistening with fresh butter, sea salt and a touch of pepper. You catch a scent of them and suddenly you are 6 years old sitting at your grandma’s table. Then you taste them. The delicate sweetness, the perfect popping texture, the amazing freshness, it all makes perfect sense. This is your reward for the expense and effort that goes into one of the first great fresh summer food sensations. Only you, who put in all the effort, deserve to experience it. So why do I grow peas? Just taste them and you will understand.