It must be admitted that the frozen pea has spoiled us for the seasonal treat of the fresh pea, but I have to concede that the freezing process has probably been more successful with the pea than any other vegetable. In spite of this, as every gardener knows, the joy of bringing the first basket of peas into the kitchen is hard to rival. It’s important to eat fresh peas as quickly as possible after picking as the flavour begins to degenerate with the sugars turning into starch. Once picked peas have made the journey into a shop, I would say it is too late. Best of all is to grow your own, but if you do buy them, make sure the pods are as plump and green as possible. Otherwise, it is probably best to cook with the frozen varieites.
We have to thank the Italians gardeners of the sixteenth century for introducing us to peas which have remained a popular staple of our diet ever since. Today there are confusingly many different kinds of peas available. Imported mange-tout, sugar peas, snow peas and sugar snaps are in the shops all year round and will grow well in our own summer gardens. Peas have been domesticated since the Stone Age, and there is a story that in the 1800s an archaeologist excavating the ruins of Troy dined on peas he had found in an ancient storage jar. More than 3000 years old, the 440 pounds of peas were still edible!
EARLY SUMMER PEA SOUP
There are many ways of making pea soups, using older peas or frozen peas, but the delicate flavour of a soup made with the freshest of young garden peas, is hard to beat. This is a special occasion soup. Keep a handful of the pea pods to add to the pot.
About 600g/1 ¼ lb shelled peas
175g/6 oz spring onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
175g/6 oz butter
250ml/8 fl oz cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped mint, parsley or tarragon
Melt half the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and add the onions and garlic. Cook over a low heat until translucent and then add the peas and the reserved pods and about 1.5 litre/2 ¾ pints water. Simmer until the peas are just tender, taking care not overcook. Puree in a blender and then sieve. Pour into a clean pan and reheat until just below boiling point. Stir in the remaining butter, cream, seasoning and herbs.
These delicate little custards can be eaten on their own or served as an accompaniment to fish or poultry dishes.
450g/1 lb shelled peas
150ml/5 fl oz milk
150ml/5 fl oz cream
5 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper
Put the peas into a pan containing an inch of fast boiling water, cover with a tight lid and cook for no longer than 6 minutes. Puree the peas and any remaining cooking liquid in a blender or food processor. Push the pea puree through a sieve with a wooden spoon. Pour in the milk, cream and eggs and season with salt and pepper and a little nutmeg. Pour the mixture into 6 buttered ramekin dishes or a 1.5 litre/2 pint basin. Place in roasting tin half filled with boiling water and cook at Gas Mark 4/350F/180C for 45 minutes.
To serve, cool the custards for 5 minutes and then run a sharp knife around the edge of the moulds. Turn upside down and gently shake each out onto a plate.
PEAS WITH BACON AND NEW POTATOES
Throw in a handful of skinned broad beans to this and some chopped fresh herbs.
To serve 4:
8 rashers bacon, diced
2 tablespoons oil or butter
Enough small new potatoes for 4 (depending on your appetite)
A few mint sprigs
350g/12 oz shelled peas
A few shredded lettuce leaves
Fry the bacon lightly in the oil or butter. Add the potatoes and the mint sprigs. Pour over about 400ml/3/4 pint water, cover, and cook for 20 minutes, adding the peas and lettuce leaves 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time.