I am blessed to be within walking distance of two of Britain’s Greatest Food Retailers, at the brow and foot of Donkin Hill in Caversham, which I refer to as Top and Bottom Coop. They’re very good on local and seasonal produce. Which is why, for the last few weeks, I have been coming home from the weekend top-up shop with bags of peas. Actual unshelled peas in pods.
Now. The humble frozen pea is, of course, a thing of simple delight that has a place in any time-conscious, thrift-aware chef’s repertoire. Simply presented alongside a shepherd’s pie. Folded into a pea and paneer curry. As part of a prawn-heavy paella (oh the pink against the green, I swoon into a Nigel Slater-style wafting fit at the joy of it all).
HOWEVS. Peas that you have podded yourself are a different prospect. The simple, mindful meditative state that comes from eviscerating the crisp crysalids is not an activity conducive to the mid-week supper grind. This is weekend activity. Ideally, it needs a big kitchen table, small children and a grandma to hand, sunlight streaming in through high kitchen windows.
I have none of those. Well, no, I have a grandma. She’s in her nineties, knotted with arthritis. If I showed her a pea pod, she’d spit in my eye. So I pod my peas in the front room, where the light is better. Up until this year, I can’t remember the last time I unzipped a pea pod. A simple process. Two bowls needed. Tug from the root end, taking off the stringy bit. The pod pops open with a pleasingly juicy snap. One skilful swipe with the thumb sends a spoonful of peas into one bowl. Another flick and the pods go into the other. Continue as required. The odd escapee will ping away under the sofa. Oh well.
A glass of wine and some loud rock and roll help the process along no end.
There’s a lot of waste with fresh peas. The pods take up twice as much volume as the precious legumes. These are, of course, eminently compostable, or you can simmer and blitz them to make a peapod purée that works remarkably well as a simple, delicate pasta sauce. Sieve well. No stringy bits needed here.
Growing peas always felt like a ball ache to me, but I’m very happy to give up a quiet portion of my weekend to the separation of a fresh bagful of English peas, and the contemplation of what to do with them afterwards.
If nothing else, my hands smell delicious afterwards. That’s a scent some enterprising perfumery should bottle.