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Last Chance Foods: Behold the Power of the Pea

Friday, June 06, 2014

This week, cookbook authors Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, known as the reality television duo “The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” charmingly flaunted two long-standing tenants of Last Chance Foods: Don’t sound like "Delicious Dish," and don’t antagonize the farmers.

“If people haven’t had a sweet pea before, freshly picked, then they haven’t experienced the true power of the pea,” said Kilmer-Purcell, who admitted after the taping that Last Chance Foods’ listeners could have heard a double entendre in that statement. 

Ridge quickly followed up with this controversial statement: “A frozen pea is often better than a farmers market pea,” he said. Ridge went on to explain that various studies have report that between 20 percent and 80 percent of the sugar in peas and sweetcorn convert to starch within 24 hours. That’s why blanching them right after being picked and freezing them is the best way to preserve freshness. (It’s necessary to blanch the peas in order to kill an enzyme that would continue to break down the vegetable.)

“A pea that’s picked and frozen right away is going to be infinitely better than fresh pea that’s sat around for a day before shelling,” explained Ridge. “Farmers are not going to like me for that, but it’s true.” Of course, the caveat is that a fresh pea picked from a kitchen garden and eaten immediately is best of all.

That may not be possible at all this year, said Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell, authors of The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook. They grow vegetables at their farm in Sharon Spring, N.Y., and said that everything has come in late this season, given the cool temperatures.

(Photo: Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell/Alec Hemer)

“The real danger with peas is that they have such a short growing window,” said Kilmer-Purcell. “Because once the... daytime average temperatures get above 70 degrees, they stop growing. They’re done. They stop producing. So if they don’t start growing soon and start flowering, we may not get any.”

Even if their pea plants fail to yield any sweet little green gems this season, the leaves will be edible, and the plants will help enrich the soil.

“Peas, like beans, they are nitrogen fixers, so they pull nitrogen from the air,” said Kilmer-Purcell. “They have a beneficial bacteria in their roots that grow nitrogen nodules in them.” That means pea plants serve as good companion plants for nitrogen-needing greens like spinach.

“If you ever do grow peas, don’t pull them out at the end of the season,” he added. “Just cut them off and leave the roots in the ground, because that’s where all the nitrogen is.”

An important part of the garden, peas weren’t always appreciated in their fresh form. They were traditionally dried and used throughout the winter.

“In fact fresh peas were kind of a fad in the time of Louis XIV,” Kilmer-Purcell said. “Nobody had eaten fresh peas before that. There’s a famous French diary where [it was written that] women would go home from these huge feasts, and — at the risk of great indigestion — they would eat peas before bedtime.” Shocking!

Below is a recipe for spring pea soup, which is a great way to enjoy fresh peas without risking indigestion.

Spring Pea Soup 
From The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook by Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell

(Photo: Sugar snap peas at Beekman 1802/Paulette Tavormina)

There's still a little chill in the air when the first peas are ready for picking. This soup is perfect in the spring when young lettuces are around.

SERVES 4

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 leeks, thinly sliced and well washed
  • 6 cups tender green lettuce leaves, well washed and dried
  • 1/3 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 2 cups shelled fresh green peas (see Tidbit)
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until tender.

Add the lettuce and mint and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lettuce is very tender.

Stir in the peas, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 5 minutes, or until the peas are tender and the flavors have blended.

Working in 2 batches, transfer the soup to a blender and puree until smooth. Add the cream and lemon juice and blend. Serve hot.

TIDBIT: To get 2 cups of shelled peas, you'll need to start with about 2 pounds of peas in the pod, so feel free to use frozen peas here (we'll never tell).

Reprinted from “The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook” by Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell. Copyright (c) 2014 by Beekman 1802, LLC. By permission of Rodale Books. Available wherever books are sold.

Guests:

Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge

Hosted by:

Amy Eddings

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Last Chance Foods covers produce that’s about to go out of season, gives you a heads up on what’s still available at the farmers market and tells you how to keep it fresh through the winter.

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