The Pea Feast: English Peas, Straight from the Garden

I had an exciting evening, last night. It was the pea harvest and June pea feast: the first real meal of fresh shelling peas from my little garden. Fresh shelled peas are something special, something truly seasonal, and I had been looking forward to this ever since I planted them in March.

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It's easy to wax sentimental about peas. They go into the ground before nearly everything else in the garden; it's like this little expression of hope, when the ground is still cold and wet, to plant peas and believe that they will grow. Then they shoot up from the ground, unfolding their leaves and twining their delicate vines around their supports, and it feels like something magical has happened. And when those little pods began to appear: well, it's really exciting.

These peas are all English peas, which need to be shelled. But we would eat the baby pods off the vines, crunching the sweet baby peas inside. As the peas developed we would split the pods open and eat the peas inside raw, tiny sugary pops of green.

But finally, now, the peas are done. I harvested a few handfuls of pods last night and shelled them. That's the other side of peas, the part that makes them so special. You hardly get any, after all that waiting, watching, and impromptu garden eating. A bowlful of pods yielded perhaps half a cup of shelled peas, so special and delicious in their rarety. So of course a pea feast was immediately in order.

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I cooked the peas fast in boiling steam, added butter, salt and pepper, and tossed them carefully with just a pinch of chiffonaded mint and a pile of homemade, hand-cut pasta.

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We ate the pasta and the peas alone — no salad, no bread, nothing else. It was heavenly to eat those spring peas, straight from the garden, just an hour from the vine. After all the hard work of gardening and the worrisome days of too much heat, too much rain, too many weeds, this is the point: the pleasure of eating peas straight from the garden. It's simple and elemental. You really must try it sometime.

I have a few handfuls of pods left on the vines, and there will be perhaps one more pea feast before the vines are pulled up and cucumbers go in. Just two feasts, and that's enough, until next year. (When I will plant at least twice as much.)

Related: Seasonal Spotlight: English Peas

(Images: Faith Durand)

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