Ahh, sweet sunshine! A rare sighting this spring and early summer. Perhaps the only two things thriving in my garden at the moment are snap peas and mint. Ok, my lettuces and fennel and a scary amount of slugs are thriving too, but that is a story for another blog!
This is the time of year when I am heavy into foraging for my food from my garden, meadows, and woods. This is not because I am a remarkably creative person, it is because I am really tired of making shopping lists, driving to the store, and well, shopping.
With the last of the asparagus picked and eaten, we are onto the next wave of garden bounty – peas – and in particular my favorite snap peas. Peas are among the oldest cultivated vegetables, and there is evidence of cultivated peas in ancient Egyptian tombs! There are more than 1000 varieties of peas in existence today. Snap peas are unique in that their pods are edible as well as the sweet peas inside, and for those of us who are too impatient for a lot of shelling (although I do love shelled peas as well), snap peas are a great alternative as you can eat them pods and all. When looking to enjoy snap peas, there are only 3 basic rules:
- Buy fresh – if you don’t have a ready supply of peas bursting in your garden, you can find fresh snap peas at farmers markets, roadside stands and in your CSA basket this time of year – to find a farmer selling snap peas near you, check our on-line directory. Just look for firm, glossy pods that are filled almost to bursting.
- Keep them cold – in snap peas, the sugar converts to starch the way it does in corn, and keeping them cold helps slow down that process and will preserve their crispy texture and powerful nutrients. Snap peas are a great source of vitamin C and K as well as folate, iron and protein.
- Eat them soon – while most of the commercially grown pea crop is now sold canned, frozen and even dried, most people agree that snap peas are best fresh. Fresh snap peas are best eaten within 3 days of picking.
What are some great ways to eat fresh snap peas? This is where the mint comes in. There is nothing as lovely as snap peas with fresh mint. Other wonderful accompaniments include lemon, garlic or green onions. Snap peas can be cooked almost any way you can imagine – steamed, sautéed, fried, roasted. The key is that however you cook them, fast is best as it retains the wonderful crisp texture of the pods. For those who love preserving, snap peas can be pickled much like green beans. For me, nothing beats eating fresh snap peas, straight from the garden, raw.
In addition to eating the snap peas, you can also enjoy the blossoms and leafy plant tips or pea shoots. Just remember that ornamental “sweet peas” are NOT edible. Another boon to planting snap peas is that like all legumes, peas are great for soil conditioning and are a tasty and wonderful addition to your garden crop rotation. Enjoy this wonderful early summer treat!