Gjelina Group Goes to the Market: Pea Tendrils
Climbing into Spring
By Sam Rogers, Gjelina Group's farm liaison
This week's climbing vine captured my heart during the obsessive harvest of the fruit of its labor, the snap peas. Pea tendrils are the young shoots of the snow pea or sugar snap pea plant. [I once tried harvesting them from an English pea plant — it tasted terrible. Those just don’t seem to produce tender shoots.] Tendrils are harvested after a few weeks of growth, before the pea pods fully develop. This climbing vine can reach heights of 6 to 7 feet (unless, as in this case, you keep picking the tender shoots for eating) and are harvested once the pea plants are at least a foot tall — anything shorter and you will most likely kill the plant. The young tendrils have hollow round stems that give it a great crunch, with thin coiled tendrils that allow it to climb up a trellis effectively.
Technically the entire plant is edible, though stems closer to the base or center will be tough and pulpy, so we leave those alone. At the edges, white and pink blossoms will begin to bloom from which the pea pods will form. These flowers are just as tasty as the leaves and peas. It is a work of edible art when you are able to harvest small shoots that showcase every stage of development on a single stem: rosy blossoms, tendrils, leaves and some little pea pods.
Pea tendrils taste like an ethereal cross between peas and spinach. They have a mild sweet grass aroma and the same sweet, vegetal flavor of a fresh pea, yet lighter and cleaner. The essence of spring, as far as vegetables go. Pea tendrils may be eaten raw when young, but as the leaves and stems mature, and the weather warms, they tend to get a bit woody and fibrous. These older tendrils benefit from a brief cooking, as you would mature spinach or other leafy green. Better yet, get them now while they’re perfect.