Peas, Pretty Peas……….
A new month has begun, and the attractive starlet appearing on the February page of the new Chubeza Calendar is none other than the white pea flower, a reminder that it is high time to devote a Newsletter to this beauty. The delectable fresh pea, now visiting our boxes, will not remain for long, so let’s get acquainted!
Hans Christian Anderson sure loved the pea. He even gave it extraterrestrial powers: a useful tool to distinguish a real princess from a fake (The Princess and the Pea) and even to make a sick little girl all better (or land in the pigeon’s crop, Five Peas from a Pod). You, too, will love the pea. She’s chubby and charming, sweet and joyful, and she doesn’t like being stabbed with a fork. If she can, she’ll roll off your plate and all over the house…..
Though she pretends to be a young’un, she is in fact one of the most ancient vegetables that human beings have cultivated. The pea is said to have originated in three centers: central Asia (northwest India to Afghanistan), the Near East (yup, here too) and Ethiopia. After having being cultivated, it was spread via passers, merchants, and conquerors, till it arrived in the Mideast and the Far East. The remains of a primitive, almost 12,000-year-old pea were discovered in caves on the border of Burma and Thailand (a wild pea, not the cultivated type.) Traces of its granddaughters, only 8000 years old, were discovered in Northwestern Iraq, and remains of the great-granddaughters (5000 years old) were found in a lake in a Swiss village. The Greeks and Romans raised peas in the 6th century BC, but the vegetable only arrived in China much later, in the 7th century AC, acquiring the nickname “Hu tou”- foreign legumes.
The first varieties contained peas which started out hard, and thus were used dry or ground for flour. These were also darker and smaller peas than the ones we know today. In medieval times, peas became a major component of the European cuisine, due to the vegetable’s ability to be maintained throughout the long winter months and to fill a hungry belly. Only in Italy at the end of the 14th century were the first fresh peas developed, followed by the French variety, which was known for its diminutive dimensions. Yet it took several additional centuries for fresh peas to become quite fashionable.
The problem with fresh peas is that upon being harvested, the sugar begins to turn to starch, and it quickly loses its sweetness. This characteristic is especially problematic in this day and age, where so much time can pass till the vegetables arrive at your local grocery. For this reason, even today, when peas are raised all over the world, only 2-5% of the produce is fresh on your shelves. The vast majority of peas are industrial crops which are canned, frozen or dried. Canned peas come in a khaki-like color, because the chlorophyll is destroyed in the heat. This also causes a major loss of much of its nutritional value. When vegetables began being frozen in the 1920’s, this became the preferred way to maintain peas. The vegetables were fresh frozen almost immediately at harvest, thus keeping their color and nutritional advantages. Fresh peas can only be eaten in winter and springtime, as the pea does not agree with summer heat, so prepare your fingers for peeling and sharpen those taste buds!
The flat pea was developed by Dutch farmers in the 16th century. From Holland it traveled to England, and then on to the Far East. Of course, the Chinese coined it “hoh laan dau,” meaning “the Dutch pea.” The flat pea’s charming consent to be stir-fried, the preferred Chinese method of cooking, made it a favorite for a billion Chinese– granting it the new name, “the Chinese pea.” It traveled to San Francisco in the luggage of Chinese immigrant workers on their way to build the greatest railways in the West. Those who ended up farmers named it Shii dau, snow pea, perhaps out of a longing for home and the Chinese winter. Hence the confusing name.
But between you and me, we are willing to forgive, because behind all the different nicknames lies a sweet, crunchy pea, with a flat-to-bulging figure, that is so yummy! It also denotes the start of pea season at Chubeza. This year we are growing two of our prominent pea varieties: the flat one (snow/French/Dutch/Chinese, what have you) and the chubby garden pea, out of which we extricate the lovely roly-poly peas.
Harvesting snow peas is a lesson in restraint. Not only because it is hard to control the ongoing temptation to nibble, but also because we need to constantly remind ourselves to harvest only the swollen pods, not the soft flat ones. A short taste-test in the field during harvest (duty calls…) proves that the swollen pods are the sweetest. They are the most mature, which is why they have a high level of sugar.
Our snow peas, like their sister the garden peas, are grown in Chubeza by trellising (on a vine). But as opposed to the tomato, eggplant and pepper, which we also support, we stretch a net between the poles of the pea plants. They send out their tendrils and climb by themselves. The delicate nature of the plant, with its thin, silk-like stems and leaves, causes it to be exceptionally light, which makes it easier to climb and hold on. Climbing plants always seem to me to be more intelligent, the kind that can find the solution with their own “two feet.” Not enough light out here? Let’s climb up and get some more!” When the pea tendril, which develops from the leaf, meets a hard object (even a thin net like ours), it begins growing cells in a varying manner–those close to the hard object get smaller, while the ones farther away grow longer. This generates a twist and then a bounding of the tendril upon the net, like a little spring. Such a dance can continue from one to ten minutes. Amazing, don’t you think? Here’s s0me more info about this wonder (Hebrew).
As for us, this climbing makes us so happy, as we know that soon we will be able to straighten our backs. Now we are harvesting the first rounds of snow pea pods from the lower part of the plant. But gradually, as it climbs higher, the peas will ripen at a higher level, and we too will be able to raise our backs like homo sapiens and harvest peas while upright. What joy!
Wishing you a nice wintery week, hoping that the rain, which keeps dodging us the closer we get to it, will finally decide to stay for awhile, and quench our fields’ thirst.
Alon, Bat Ami, Maya, Dror and the Chubeza crew
In this week’s box:
Monday: cauliflower, fava beans/garden peas/snow peas, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, Swiss chard/kale, leeks, small boxes only: daikon/beets/turnips, small boxes only: celeriac
Large boxes, in addition: fennel, red/green cabbage, cilantro/dil, carrots/peppers, kohlrabi.
Wednesday: kale/Swiss chard, fennel/kohlrabi, cucumbers, cilantro/dill, broccoli, potatoes, lettuce, snow peas, tomatoes, small boxes: cabbage/cauliflower, small boxes only: celeriac.
Large box, in addition: cauliflower and cabbage, carrots, turnips/radishes, leeks
And there’s more! You can add to your basket a wide, delectable range of additional products from fine small producers: flour, sprouts, fruits, honey, dates, almonds, crackers, probiotic foods, dried fruits and leathers, olive oil, bakery products, pomegranate juice and goat dairy too! You can learn more about each producer on the Chubeza website. On our order system there’s a detailed listing of the products and their cost, you can make an order online now!