Garden Fresh Peas!

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.

Orange Vinaigrette

Juice and zest of 2 oranges
½ Tablespoon honey
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon olive oil
A dash of salt and a few grinds of black pepper

Whisk these ingredients together and serve on a salad of tender lettuce leaves, red onion slivers, fresh garden peas, orange sections and a boiled egg.

I frequently make pasta dishes that don’t really have a sauce.  I learned how good that was decades ago when I first had pasta tossed in a basil pesto in a big city restaurant!  That was a new thing, but it quickly became one of my favorites.  I make my own pesto during the summer when my fresh herbs are plentiful.  I freeze little packets of it, so I have it throughout the other months. I use carrot tops, fennel fronds and small portions of other greens to make similar concoctions that just add summer freshness to a wintertime meal.

This pasta is dressed with the olive oil left in the skillet from sautéing chicken, lemon juice and fresh thyme. Here’s the way to make it! Be sure you save a little of the pasta boiling water to add to the skillet to create a somewhat starchy creamy finish.

Boil the amount of pasta you need.  In about a quarter inch of olive oil in a heavy skillet, gently fry chicken tenders or chunks of boneless chicken meat.  I dust my chicken in flour, but you don’t have to.  Season the chicken with garlic powder, salt and pepper.
When the pasta is about 5 minutes from being done, add a handful of fresh sweet peas to cook as the pasta finishes.  When the peas/pasta are done, drain it … saving about a cup of the water. 

When the chicken is done, remove it from the skillet and lower the heat.  Immediately, add the juice and zest of a lemon to the remaining olive oil in the skillet.  Stir in a teaspoon of fresh thyme and a sprinkle of garlic powder. Add the pasta and peas to the skillet and stir it to coat the pasta.  Lastly, add a half cup of parmesan cheese (from the green box, not fresh) and toss the ingredients.

When serving, squeeze that lemon one more time and add a little juice to the chicken pieces. This combination of pasta, peas and lemon is delicious.

This column is a part of my 2020 Vintage Vegetables project.  If you’d like to see similar posts, just click the menu tab.  I’ll be sharing this with some blog parties, so take a look at the list on my sidebar.  

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