I grew up in my favorite vintage period, the 1950s and 60s. When I think about peas coming to our dinner table, I remember two things. My daddy disliked peas. I loved them over mashed potatoes. Hold the gravy; I still love them over my mashed potatoes!
When I look through my wonderful collection of vintage cookbooks, I find crazy recipes using peas. I could almost understand using peas to fill the center of a creamy lemon gelatin mold or with a combination of vegetables to make a loaf to slice … if the peas had been fresh from the garden. Our homemakers of that time were using canned peas. I guess that is no different than me loving little tiny spring peas out of a can … in the well in the middle of my scoop of mashed potatoes!
I think the funniest vintage recipe using canned peas that I’ve found is shown above, Bologna Cups filled with Peas! I grew up eating fried bologna sandwiches, but I had never seen or eaten a bologna boat (what the school cafeteria ladies called them) until I had to eat lunch at school one day instead of going home for lunch. There weren’t any peas in my boat, though … just mashed potatoes! Some of the kids put catsup over that, and I was certain they were crazy!
Here's another interesting bologna boat recipe! At least this one tops a casserole of macaroni and cheese, and that combination sounds good to me.
A column about bologna is planned for a future date, but it is likely that these 1950s fancy bologna recipes evolved because it was also at that time that plastic packaging hit the scene. Home cooks could buy packaged sliced bologna and keep it for some time in their refrigerator!
Peas have been around nearly forever! When we look at the history of peas, we aren’t finding the sweet little soft green peas during the bronze age, but the hard legumes that were easily dried, stored and cooked. Egyptians, Romans and Greeks considered peas a staple, but it wasn’t until the 16th Century that we realized they were good picked when they were new plants, before they had hardened and dried. Pease were found on the menus of Henry VIII. Pease Pudding was very common during that time and used dried yellow peas and not the sweet garden variety that we commonly eat today. The word pease originally was used as the singular, but eventually the word changed to pea.
In the late 1500s, peas were found in Dutch gardens. This was the beginning of the Dutch Golden Age and it should be remembered that the Dutch India Trading Company made many Dutch citizens wealthy merchants. The haute cuisine that had emerged in the previous century became commonly available to the middle and upper classes by 1600.
Still, what we know as sweet peas or sugar peas were only available during the growing season and they were considered a special food item favored by the wealthy. A little later, the French realized how good the petits pois were and finally, in 1870 in America the Campbell’s Company began canning fresh peas! By 1920, peas were among the first vegetables to become available frozen.
I enjoy fresh peas. I’m going to share a couple recipes for ways to savor the sweet gems. A few go a long way in these recipes, so you don’t have to spend hours hulling and shelling them, but you get that wonderful springtime taste!
One of my 1950s cookbooks includes a recipe for topping boiled fresh peas with a sweetened orange juice and butter combination. That made me realize that an orange salad dressing would be wonderful over a green salad that included a handful of fresh peas. If the peas are fresh enough, you can eat them raw. I enjoy them that way.