It’s that time of year: pea season — planting the peas, that is. There’s something special to me about having peas in the garden. They’re one of the first things to pop through the soil, after having been planted when it’s still wintertime. My dad always said to have your peas planted by St. Patrick’s Day, and I continue that tradition in my own garden. By the time the frost is over and warmth is on the way, pea shoots are winding their way up to the sky, and for me it symbolizes renewal of the cycle of life.
Since this is my first growing season as a new parent, I’m keeping a modest garden this year. Peas are relatively low maintenance, plus there’s nothing quite like that first meal of the year with fresh garden peas. There’s no way I could omit them from the garden.
Since I’m also a volunteer in the kitchen garden at Old Sturbridge Village, I use many of the same gardening and food preservation methods that would have been used 200 years ago. This includes growing vegetables for storage as much as I am for immediate consumption straight from the garden. Last year I had a bumper crop of peas, despite the fact that a rabbit ate up half my pea shoots early in the spring. In the spirit of our American forbears who survived more than half the year on food out of the root cellar or that had been dried or pickled, I did what they would have done: I let the pods dry on the vine, then shelled the dry peas and stored them for later use.
To resurrect whole dry peas, do as you would with dry beans. Soak them in water overnight, then the next day cook for 60-90 minutes to make soup. Although you can technically turn the dried peas into split peas by gently splitting them with a mallet, I skip that step and keep them whole. Plus, whole dried peas have more fiber since the hull hasn’t been removed, as they are with split peas. If you dry your peas this way, you can enjoy your garden peas year-round.
That’s exactly what I did for a recent dinner, which took the form of “split” pea soup.
(I’ll be posting again soon with a complete list of what I’m growing in 2013.)
The bacon is cooked separately to render out much of the fat so it never makes it into the soup, cutting back on calories without skimping on flavor. Because of the bacon, there is no need for additional salt.
- 1 pound dried split or whole peas
- 12 ounces bacon
- 1 large onion, halved and sliced
- 2 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
- 1 12-ounce bottle of beer
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
- 2 bay leaves
- black pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- If using whole dried peas, cover the peas with 2 inches of water and soak overnight.
- In a skillet, cook the bacon until browned and crisp (you may need to do several batches.) Drain on paper towels.
- In a large pot, cook the onions in olive oil over medium heat until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
- Add the carrots and cook an additional 2-3 minutes.
- Pour in the beer, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Add the potatoes and bay leaves, then fill the pot with enough water equivalent to double the height of the solid ingredients.
- Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to low heat and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes or until the peas are softened and begin to break apart. (If using whole dried peas: simmer, covered, for 90 minutes.)
- Puree the soup in a blender, in batches, to create a consistent texture. Optionally, use a stick blender to puree the soup directly in the pot.
- Season with black pepper and serve.