Whatever else one can say about peas, one must acknowledge that special color that is as uplifting as they are upwardly reaching. Speaking of upward, tales have been told of a prince on a quest for a “real” princess. This prince believed that a real princess could only be detected when the tender skin of the person in question could be bruised by a single pea hidden under twenty mattresses topped by twenty featherbeds. Hopefully, that prince got exactly what he deserved.
The Greeks and the Romans first used peas as a dried dietary staple to tide them through poor harvests. By 800 AD, dried peas were the essential food of European peasants. Occasionally, fresh green peas caught the fancy of those with choices and became a food fashion trend in this and that subsequent century. Catherine di Medici brought many of her favorite foods to France when she married its king in 1553, including the piselli novella or new peas. Early European settlers brought the vegetable to North America where Thomas Jefferson cultivated more than thirty varieties. Wherever it landed, the tenacious curling pea tendril pulled itself up by the peapods and took root.
Where the idea originated that peas could be eaten with a knife has not been recorded. One could guess that when knives were the primary dinnertable implement a hungry diner might have mashed a few peas and scooped them up with his blade. In the thoughts and pen of Ogden Nash, however, the concept became more humorous:
I eat my peas with honey
I’ve done it all my life
It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on the knife
Peas, like their legume cousins, beans, were initially dried and cooked with liquid. For some reason, they weren’t commonly eaten fresh until about the mid 15th or 16th C. Like so much else that comes with this season, we are now looking forward to the arrival of such fresh peas. Those searching for new eating adventures have discovered the pleasures of a fast sauté of tendrils and very young leaves with a hint of garlic. However, there is little more refreshing than a bowl of fresh pea soup. And, lucky us, Martha Bernstein has contributed her own favorite recipe for Pea Soup with Mint for this week. Martha has been a long time customer and supporter of our farmers’ market and an invaluable “call if you need me” volunteer. Her soup makes a perfect lunch or first course on a summer’s day.