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Vintage California Cuisine: 300 Recipes from the First Cookbooks Published in the Golden State


Tips on Fresh Peas
Above All, Eat Them ASAP

  • To get one-half cup of shelled peas, you’ll need to start with about one pound of peas in the pod. The simplest, though not the most elegant, way to serve them is to steam them in their pods, salt and butter the whole things, and let each diner pop open the shells and remove the peas with teeth and tongue.
  • The earliest peas don’t need to be cooked at all. Mature shelling peas, on the other hand, aren’t worth eating fresh, asserts Janet Fletcher in More Vegetables, Please (Harlow & Ratner, Emeryville, Calif., 1992). "Nothing you can do will make them taste good; you’re better off with frozen petite peas," Fletcher maintains.
  • Patricia Wells, writing in Patricia Wells at Home in Provence: Recipes Inspired by Her Farmhouse in France (Scribner, New York, 1996), offers this word of advice: "The secret to maintaining the true green pea color is to blanch the peas and then refresh them in cold water, thus ‘setting’ the chlorophyl. The refreshing ice bath also helps maintain their crunch. The addition of mint to the blanching water is a small ‘tip’ but one that – like so many minor cooking trucs – makes the difference between a dish that’s flat and one-dimensional and one that is layered with nuanced flavors."
  • Alice Waters, in Chez Panisse Vegetables (Harper Collins, New York, 1996), recommends not wasting any time getting peas from market to serving plate. "Green peas are unforgiving if they are not rushed from the field to the market," she writes. "They start losing their natural sugars after harvest, but this can be slowed down if they are cooled immediately." And she does mean immediately. "If possible peas should be kept cool on the way home," Waters writes.
  • M.F.K. Fisher probably wouldn’t be troubled with tough peas if the ambiance was right. "The best way to east fresh [peas] is to be alive on the right day," she advises, "with the men picking and the women shelling, and everybody capering in the sweet early summer weather, and the big pot of water boiling and the table set with little cool roasted chickens and pitchers of white wine." Coming back to earth, Fisher adds, "So….how often does this happen?"

Copyright 1997 Seasonal Chef