More Peaceful Peas Please
I’m currently living in a second story apartment, waiting for a home in an affordable housing community to open up. It’s a very well laid out apartment but I’m really missing being able to walk out the door and poke around in my garden. Thus, I was delighted to be offered some space in a large fenced plot nearby, where I can plant a little something. I’m starting with peas and greens, compatible cool weather crops that don’t mind chilly nights and wildly variable days. Since I gave away all my plant supports when I moved, I’m propping my peas with stout sticks and twiggy branches. I especially love curly, crunchy pea tendrils in salads and stir fries, so I grow several varieties bred by Alan Kapuler and his family for their companies, Peace Seeds and Peace Seedlings.
Peace Seedlings is Northwestern partnership dedicated to saving seeds of diversity and breeding public domain plants for organic growers (including Log House Plants). Peace Seedlings continues the work of Alan and Linda Kapuler’s Peace Seeds, co-founders of Seeds of Change and holders of a seed bank of about 1,000 varieties. The two seed companies share growing space and work cooperatively, each following their own particular interests with shared goals of creating true seed strains of delicious, nutritious food crops. One favorite Peace people project has been to develop a rainbow of peas, with flowers and pods in every shade possible. I first grew their Sugar Magnolia snap peas for the gorgeous reddish purple pods as well as the plump, tender peas. Knowing it was also Jerry Garcia’s favorite just makes it that much sweeter. Since then, I’ve discovered a wealth of Peaceful peas, and still haven’t figured out my own favorite.
Green Beauty & Peanut Butter?
Green Beauty Snow-Snap peas are sometimes called snow-snaps because the hand-sized pods are so crisp and succulent. Breeders Dylana Kapuler and Mario DiBenedetto fill the pods with peanut butter, but I like them stuffed with soft goat cheese mashed with minced herbs (lemon thyme and green onions is especially tasty). The pods are excellent in stir fries and salads and make a lovely garnish for spring pea soup, as do the crisp, crunchy peavine tendrils. Green Beauty is definitely a strong contender for best ever snow pea, and the peas are lovely too, should any manage to ripen before we eat all the pods. The vines get 26-32″ tall and need a little support (a cage is perfect).
Magnolia Blossom is another Kapuler snap pea, a tall (8-10 foot) beauty that definitely needs sturdy support. The beautiful blossoms boast warm lavender banners, ruby wings, and burgundy keels, while the jade green pods may be softly striped in purple or rose. The juicy peas are a fresh green and plump pods can be sliced and stir fried or tucked into salads and wraps. A sister snap pea, Spring Blush, is similar in size and vigor, with softly tinted bicolor blossoms and green pods blushed with rose and pink. Spring Blush is also an awesome producer of those tender crisp twirly bits I’, crazy about. It’s what Dr. Kapuler calls a hypertendril pea, meaning that it produces hundreds of twining curly tendrils on each vine. That makes Spring Blush especially easy to support and fabulous for filling the salad bowl.
Tell Me Why The Peavine Twines
Several shelling peas are also generous tendril producers, notably Feisty and Sandy, large podded varieties with fat, sweet peas. Their vines are less leafy than most, but those active tendrils do a fine job of supporting them and the big pods show up well against the lacy vines. Masterpiece peas offer curly, frilled tendrils as well as plump, flavorful peas on compact vines that grow well in large containers. While some tendril-rich peas are multi-purpose, the adorably frizzy Petite Snap Greens is all about the delicious, tender-crisp tendrils, shoots, and flowers. The actual peas are ok, but if you harvest the tendrils and tops every few days, their quality will remain terrific until hot weather takes them down.
The Sweetness Of The First Peas
Crisp, crunchy and delectably sweet, snowpeas rarely make it into real recipes at my house since they tend to get eaten right off the vine. However, I have a few special recipes that set off the best qualities of early peas and they have become family spring classics. As a student in Italy, many, many years ago, I fell in love with a spring dish called Risi Bisi. Basically, it involves hot, fluffy rice with a spunky sauce of clotted cream, garlic greens, mint, lots of pepper, and tender young peas, barely cooked.
If you grow garlic, you can harvest some of the sturdy foliage, which look like green straws. The flowering tips are prized by cooks for garnish, and whole stems, flowerhead and all, also get chopped into stir fries and sauteed dishes. If you don’t grow garlic, you can use garlic chives, or even regular chives, though they are not quite as pungent. Don’t harvest too many greens off any single garlic plant, since plants need their foliage to support the fattening bulbs. Garlic chives or regular chives can be snipped with scissors, and there’s no worry about harming the plant (at least, I’ve never managed to kill chives yet).
Italian Risi Bisi
1 cup raw rice (jasmine or short grain brown)
2 cups shelled young peas (about 1 pound)
2 sprigs minced fresh spearmint (or any mint)
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic chives
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 dried hot pepperoncino pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup clotted or sour cream
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 chive blossoms
Cook rice according to directions on packet. When rice is ready, heat the oil and dried pepper in a wide, shallow pan over medium high heat until lightly brown on all sides. Discard pepper, add peas, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook for 2 minutes. Add minced herbs and cook for 1 minute. Stir in cream, reduce heat to low and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper, spoon over hot rice and serve, garnished with chive blossoms. Serves four.