Pease Porridge Hot…
How many generations of parents and little kids have quoted this and not had the vaguest idea as to what the idea of “pease porridge” was and why people ate it?
There was a time when sugar snap peas did not exist, snow peas (“mange tout” or “eat it all” in French) were considered quite exotic, and the only way most people ate regular peas, also known as English peas, was the dried version. Split pea soup (especially delicious when made with a ham bone or hock) was wildly popular, and a staple food year round. “Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old” was a reality, as the pot might have been reheated over and over (not recommended, by the way).
Fresh peas were not taken for granted, and the short season was celebrated, a tradition which I carry on, seeking out this treat at the farmers markets, although the best of the best is when you can go to a U Pick It farm and select your own pods to rush them home and enjoy immediately at their peak.
Peas are one of the few foods which are often better frozen than fresh, the former picked at that peak and processed immediately while the latter may have been picked overripe then languished in shipping or in storage for days, with what remained of the delicious sugars rapidly turning to starch. You can make fabulous puree of “fresh” pea soup with the frozen ones and no one will know the difference.
For shoppers, it’s easy to succumb to the false economy of seeking out the fullest pods only to be disappointed in the flavor. Look for shiny green pods, not dried out and not too full, and the little green orbs inside will be at their sugary peak.
Sugar snap peas (edible round pods) and snow peas (edible flat pods) are delicious, too. Like regular peas, they should only be barely cooked, just enough to heat them through. I like to simply blanch them, then season with butter or sesame oil or toss into another dish to finish, perhaps a pot of risotto or new potatoes.
Pea shoots, the tendrils and baby flowers, are a personal favorite and taste like a cross between spinach and peas. The best way to obtain them is to grow snow peas and just snip before the pods start to develop; alternatively, they are usually available at Asian markets. Look for them in Chinese restaurants, called “dau mui” (dow-my), often stir fried with oyster sauce or garlic.
Another Asian approach to enjoying this little vegetable is in delicious wasabi peas.
Cow peas, also known as black eyed peas, are distant relatives of green peas, not at all like them, and we’ll take a closer look at them on another day.