Aiming to Peas
The delectable fresh pea is back in town once more, but she’s never been one to overstay her visit. So while she’s here in all her glory, here’s a Chubeza close-up on the prestigious pea:
Hans Christian Anderson sure loved peas. So much so that he granted the pea extraterrestrial powers, both as 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 (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 pierced with a fork. If she can, she’ll roll off your plate and all through 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 been cultivated, this green wonder was spread via wayfarers, 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 included peas which started out hard, and thus were used dry or ground for flour. These were also darker and smaller peas than those 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, 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 immediately upon being harvested, the sugar begins to turn to starch, and the pea quickly loses its sweetness. That 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 the nutritional value. When vegetables began being frozen in the 1920’s, this became the preferred way to store peas. The vegetables were fresh-frozen almost immediately at harvest, thus maintaining their color and nutritional benefits. Fresh peas can only be eaten in winter and springtime as the summer heat does not agree with pea, so prepare your fingers for peeling and sharpen those taste buds!
Some of this week’s boxes will contain snow peas! Of course, they have nothing to do with actual snow. A few years ago, I received a phone call from a farmer in the Golan Heights:
“We grow strawberries during summertime, and we’re looking for a winter crop. Someone recommended snow peas as a crop that can withstand heavy snow. What do you suggest?”
“Snow peas in the extreme cold of the Heights?” I asked in surprise. “We know these peas to be very sensitive to cold. Here, we seed them early and expect a yield in November. True, peas grow in wintertime and manage the Israeli cold well… but they cannot tolerate frozen weather.”
“Wait, if it’s sensitive to extreme cold, then why is it named snow pea???”
Good question. One suggestion has to do with the white glare reflecting off its pod, so thin and shiny. I guess someone very poetic found that the pea awakened his/her yearning for white, shiny snow, thus bestowing this confusing name on the hapless pea. You can also go with “Chinese pea” or “sweet pea.” I have even encountered recipes that coin it the “French pea.” As far as I know, the French actually call it mange-tout meaning: eat it all, because the whole thing is consumable, pod and all.
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 of “Chinese pea.” It traveled to San Francisco in the luggage of Chinese immigrant workers on their way to build the great 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. In general, we grow two prominent pea varieties: the flat one (snow/French/Dutch/Chinese, what have you) and the chubby garden pea, from which we extricate the lovely roly-poly peas.
Our snow 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, making it easier to climb and hold onto. 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 some more from this wonder
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!
Before we say goodbye, a word of thanks to you from us. Last week one of our deliverymen became ill and a brand new guy came to fill in for him. A new delivery line is always difficult, and this turned out to be a particularly long, complex mission for the poor sub. After we sent out a message explaining the reasons for the delay, we received many responses of encouragement and support, wishing Yochai good health and expressing concern. The boxes were finally delivered very late at night (or actually at the crack of dawn the next morning). Even so, we were truly touched by messages of support and thanks the next day from those of you who found the boxes on your doorsteps, thanking us for our devotion and efforts.
We greatly appreciate your concern, understanding and patience. This is not something we take for granted and it’s heartwarming to know that in these times where solidarity and community are getting a bad rap, we are privileged to have such a remarkable connection with our community. Thanks again!
Wishing you a great week of sunshine and winter, and bountiful good health,
Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Yochai and the entire Chubeza team
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
Monday: Parsley/dill, lettuce, fennel, cucumbers/bell peppers, cabbage/cauliflower, broccoli/fava bean/snow peas, fresh onions, tomatoes, carrots. Small boxes only: baby mesclun mix, beets/kohlrabi
Large box, in addition: Scallions/leeks, daikon/radishes/baby radishes, kale/Swiss chard/spinach, Jerusalem artichokes/cherry tomatoes.
Wednesday: Parsley/dill, lettuce/mizuna, fennel, cucumbers/bell peppers, cabbage/cauliflower, broccoli/snow peas, fresh onions, tomatoes, carrots. Small boxes only: daikon/baby radishes, celery/celeriac.
Large box, in addition: kale/spinach, Jerusalem artichokes/cherry tomatoes, beets, baby mesclun mix, kohlrabi.
And there’s more! You can add to your basket a wide, delectable range of additional products from fine small producers: flour, fruits, sprouts, honey, dates, almonds, garbanzo beans, crackers, probiotic foods, dried fruits and leathers, olive oil, bakery products, apple juice, cider and jams, dates silan and healthy snacks 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!