By Sam Rogers, Gjelina Group's farm liaison
We continue to look at the pea vines today, and focus this week on the fruits of its labor — the pea pods themselves. The snap pea, also known as the sugar snap, is that incredible edible pod pea. Its thick juicy walls yield a satisfying crunch and round green peas up the center give their sugars. Each pod usually contains three to eight peas. At maturity, the pod grows to around 4-8 cm in length, but you can really eat them at any stage of their life. They’re best enjoyed before they get sunburned, as bitterness can take over then. As we discussed last week, the plants (snap pea tendrils) are climbers and grow best when trellised. The trellis, a network of stakes and ropes, also makes it easier to harvest the peas, so they’re not sprawled all over the ground, but instead hang calmly between ankle and chest height. The French name for the peapod is mangetout which means "eat all" — by this point in spring, I feel that I already have.
Snap peas are a young vegetable, by which I mean they have a surprisingly short history. I did a little research, just to be sure, and indeed there was mention of a “butter pea” in French literature from the 19th century, but it’s not clear if this was sufficiently similar to our current snap pea to call them “the same.” Besides, it was lost from cultivation around the mid-20th century. A hundred years later in the 1950’s, Calvin Lamborn of Twin Falls, Idaho crossed a shelling pea mutant and a snow pea successfully. By breeding, mind you, not GMO, which wouldn’t even be invented for several more decades, so don’t panic! With this cross by Mr. Lamborn, the “sugar snap pea” was re-released by the Gallatin Valley Seed Company. There’s a type of extra tender and pretty pea tendril that Coleman Family Farms also grows, which bears his name — the Lamborn’s pea tendril, which Calvin also produced through painstaking cross-pollination.
Our very own Lori Heal of 2 Peas in a Pod, in SLO county, from whom we get all our berries in summer, was actually the first to bring sugar snap peas to the farmers market just as they came out.
Lori’s father in law Terry Nichols knew Calvin Lamborn, and they agreed to do a trial of the new seed at their farm. Lori laughs as she recalls having no idea what to do with the new sweet pea, “Well no one knew what they were!”, she says, “I would bring in trays of peas with dips — that’s what got people hooked. Ranch dip and green onion dip… People couldn’t get enough!”
Currently at Gjelina:
Charred snap peas, prosciutto, soffritto, mint.
Currently at Gjusta Bakery:
Seared snap peas, lemon juice, Chef Jen’s Famous Calabrian chili crisp