One of the pleasures of advancing age is the opportunity to greet so any of the material improvements that follow one after another throughout the course of our lives. I am thinking of the green pea today because, I am contributing snap peas to a dinner at Pat’s, and as I considered what to do with them I reflected on the history of the pea in my own life.
When I was young there was no such thing as a frozen pea, but they were a great crop so that not only did people eat tons of them during the season, but they were canned as well, and canned peas were served during the winter. Peas were hard to pick; they are very tough on fingers which can be blistered and torn among professional pickers. Pea picking turned out to be an important employment attracting large numbers of Mexican Americans during the season, and during the great drouth with its attendant dust bowl in the great plains many unfortunate migrants (Okies or Arkies) like John Steinbeck’s Joads found their way to California and agricultural work. It was these poor souls who inspired the name “pea pickers” for them, a term of contempt.
In those days I believe every family ate a holiday menu that had been written in stone. The Fourth of July is a case in point.We had a big noonday dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy, sliced cucumbers in vinegar, and green peas near their first appearance for the season served in a little sauce dish with butter and cream. Sometimes mint was incorporated, but I don’t remember how. Dessert was pie, either rhubarb or cherry, probably depending on whether or not Oregon had started shipping.
Birdseye Frozen Foods made their first appearance in the early 40’s. Perhaps that was as a solution to some of the problems connected with feeding the large numbers of our troops during WWII. I first began buying them after I was married, I always cooked them in exactly the same way with a little butter and salt and pepper. There were fat peas and tiny peas. Tiny peas cost more. But it wasn’t until my oldest son was in high school that I ever heard of a snap pea. I planted them in my fist real vegetable garden, but decided they were too high falutin for my modest tastes, an opinion I kept for several years. Of course I broke down at last (How could I not?) and that is the pea we eat here at our house.
What follows is new and delicious and pretty easy.
String about 3/4 to 1 lb snap peas. Slice the peas to about i in. Slice about 1/4 lb your favorite mushrooms in pieces that are similar to the peas. Mince a scallion.
Melt 1t butter and 1T butter in a saute pan. Add mushrooms and saute for 4 or 5 minutes. Add peas and onion and cook, stir frying over low temp. Meantime slice a ribbon of red ball pepper about 1/2 in wide. Slice it in thin slices and slice six mint leaves in fine slices. Add red pepper and mint to peas. Cook a minute or so until peas have lost their crispy nature but are still al dente. Stir and serve. Will be good at room temperature, and perhaps even cold.
Anybody out there with some other good vegy recipes as side dishes?