The Body Language of Peas

Snow peas ready to pick

Snow peas ready to pick

I know a thing or two about growing peas, especially Chinese snow peas. When we had a small commercial herb farm, snow peas were my spring cash crop. I supplied a couple of local restaurant chefs and kept a bag chilling in the frig for a few neighbors who stopped by on their way home from work. The local Chinese restaurant was not a customer. The owner told me that my snow peas were too small and tender to stand up to sitting in a warm sauce all evening. We never ate there again, not out of spite, but from fear of food poisoning.

But I digress, as I usually do. This evening as I picked my snow peas for dinner, I noticed that the past two days of hot weather was getting to the vines. Until a couple of days ago most of them were green and happy, but I noticed that the leaves on a number of vines were turning yellow and dry from the unrelenting heat.

I usually pick the variety that I now grow when they are about 3 inches long. That’s a loose measurement by eye and varies according to how fast they are producing – in the early days I pick them smaller because I’m anxious for the first taste and I know how many more are there to grow bigger.

Tonight my pea vines were saying something, and I needed to listen. The yellowing leaves were telling me that I needed to pick the peas on those vines, even though they were a lot smaller. They would not continue to grow long and slim and crisp.

The vine, sensing its impending demise, would hurry to produce peas at any cost, even if they were scrawny little things. So instead of growing long, those tender tiny pods would rush to produce peas – the seed nature intends them to make. They would begin to curl, lose their lovely green gloss and form fat little lumps inside. Still edible perhaps, but not those crispy, tasty tender pods we love.

So tonight we had a plate of very small – some only an inch long – and still tender pods, savoring them before they grew prematurely old and yellow. Tomorrow would have been too late – pea vines work fast.

It’s good to speak the same language as peas.

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About mstrav

Barbara Radcliffe Rogers is the author and co-author of more than 30 travel guidebooks covering destinations as far-flung as Newfoundland and Spain's Canary Islands. Wherever she travels, local food is a passion, whether it's hunting for white truffles in Italy's Piemonte or sampling farmstead cheeses in Vermont or Normandy. When at home -- and while traveling -- she loves to ski, kayak and relax afterwards in a spa.
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5 Responses to The Body Language of Peas

  1. franfolsom says:

    I am glad that you speak the “pea” language. You know when to pick the snow peas and how to enjoy them. Do you think that snow pea vines would grow well in the city?

    • mstrav says:

      Snow peas will grow well almost anywhere, and they will climb against a wall or fence. They should be planted very early in the city, though, as cities hold heat and an early hot spell could kill them. They do need some sun, but don’t require it all day. And until they turn yellow (at which time you can pull them up) they are quite attractive, and make a good background for ornamentals.

  2. This brought back memories of a sugar pea harvest I had years ago. I don’t recall loving a vegetable so much…we picked them and sauteed them in olive oil. Heaven!

  3. mstrav says:

    Yes, I use olive oil, too, sometimes with a touch of garlic.

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