We all have special rituals that mark the beginning of summer. For me, it’s sitting down at the table with my kids, my husband, and a huge bowl of fresh, unshelled peas, shucking them, and eating every pea, raw. They’re a beautiful green, sweet and delicious, and you can never eat too many. Taking the shells oﬀ is part of the fun. We’d never, ever consider cooking them. Like tomatoes, the very best peas are the ones you grow yourself. Or, have a farmer grow for you. One of the perks of working in Boston’s Back Bay is proximity to the Copley Square Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays and Fridays – especially the produce from Siena Farms, grown in Sudbury under the watchful eye of Chris Kurth. (A nice bonus of shopping at the Siena Farms stand are the baked goodies from Sofra, run by Kurth’s wife and chef extraordinaire, Ana Sortun, who also presides over the wonderful restaurant, Oleana.) For the past two weeks I’ve bought bags of fabulous, just picked peas, taken them home, and dumped them into a big bowl. “Peas!” everyone says, and the eating begins. As the shells pile up, we remember my father, who was a masterful pea grower. Every year he planted rows and rows of peas in his Western New York State garden. To make nice, straight rows, he designed his own pea planting board. It looked like a giant cribbage board, with three staggered rows. He would kneel on the ground, meticulously drop a pea seed into each hole, and then poke each seed into the soil with a chopstick. Once the seeds were planted, he unrolled the tall chicken wire pea fence, and attached it to the permanent posts in the garden. As the peas came up, he took notes on their progress, watered, weeded, and watched over them.
(pictured above: Copley Farmer’s Market in Boston, Siena Farms stand)We’d drive out from Boston for our annual Fourth of July visit, and go straight from the car to the pea patch. There were always a number of varieties to try, with hand-painted signs showing where one type ended and another began. Maestro, Lincoln, Little Marvel, Wando, Freezonian, Alaska, Thomas Laxton, Green Arrow. If you could walk, you could pick peas, and my father taught every toddler how to gently feel the pods for fullness, and then hold onto the stem with one hand and twist oﬀ the pod with the other. Over the years, a few family dogs perfected their own techniques, too. Our Irish wolfhound was tall enough to reach the pods at the very top of the plants, and her discerning eye and especially delicate bite earned her a place in the picking order. We picked, shucked, and grazed on the spot. It was OK to drop the shells in the garden paths to become part of the mulch. Very few peas ever made it into the house and those that did were served in small bowls, as appetizers, with drinks. Some day, maybe I’ll grow my own peas. But for now, it’s enough to sit down and enjoy a few bowls full, and welcome another summer. — Georgia *all photos taken by Alison