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Pea Soup
by Charlie Burke

Peas, like sweet corn, begin losing their sugars and sweetness as soon as they
are picked. If you have grown your own and can cook them immediately
after harvesting you know that no frozen or store bought pea can touch their
flavor. Next best, and nearly as good, are those bought from a farm stand or
farmers' market that have been picked that day.

Peas planted in rows occupy a large area in the garden until mid July, and for
this reason some home gardeners don't plant them. On a visit last year to
Rosalie's Garden, a beautiful organic farm in Peterborough, N.H.,  I was
surprised to see "hedges" of peas. Rosalie Bass explained that peas do well
when crowded, so she plants hers in a six to eight inch wide flat trench,
scattering them densely, less that a quarter inch apart. Studies at the
University of New Hampshire show increased yield in crops sown this way.
We planted ours this way and managed to plant twice as much seed in less
than a quarter of usual space, and the plants are loaded with pods! Try this
next year to get a huge crop in just a few feet of planting.

With great fresh peas, little needs to be done before they are ready for the
table. I see no reason to add cream or sauces which only mask the fresh sweet
flavor. With twosimilar and basic techniques you can capture this flavor.

If we are going to eat them right away, I prefer tossing the shelled peas ( or
sugar snaps) into a sauté pan over medium heat with a couple tablespoons of
water and then add a tablespoon of butter or extra virgin olive oil for each
cup of peas. Toss the peas until they are hot and season with kosher or sea
salt and pepper and serve. The peas are barely cooked and their sugar is
preserved.

If you are using the peas in a salad or prefer to the peas cooked ahead, they
can be blanched. Bring a large volume of water to a rolling boil and add one
tablespoon of salt per quart of water. Add the peas and boil for two to three
minutes (one to two minutes for sugar snaps), drain and run under cold
water until cool. They can be warmed in a pan with butter and seasoning
before serving or used in a salad recipe of your choice. For variety, a small
amount of chopped fresh mint or basil can be added to either hot or cold
peas prepared either of these ways.

Enjoy fresh peas now, because in a few weeks they'll be gone for another year!

Fresh Pea Soup

When peas are truly fresh, the pods are squeaky with bright velvety green
linings. These are an unexpected source of flavor in this soup.

Four - six servings:

2 pounds peas in the shell
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped
basil or herb of choice (e.g., tarragon, chervil or thyme)
5 cups water salt and freshly ground pepper

Shell peas, keeping undamaged pods. Saute onion, shallot, garlic and herbs
in 1 tablespoon each of butter and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and
add chopped pods when onion is soft (do not brown). Stir pods and cook
until bright green. Add water, bring to a boil and cook simmering for 30
minutes. Strain  the liquid, pressing down on the pod mixture to extract as
much liquid as possible. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the sieve into the
stock.

Bring 2 - 3 quarts of water to a fast boil and add 1 tablespoon/ quart of salt.
Blanch the peas for three minutes, reserving 1/2 cup of the blanching liquid.
Place the peas and the reserved blanching water along with the remaining
butter and a generous pinch of salt into a blender and puree (carefully cover
the blender and hold the top to prevent splashing the hot contents).

Stir the puree into the broth, heating to serving temperature if the broth has
cooled. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve, garnished with chopped
chives, basil or mint and a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche, if desired.
This is an elegant first course which preserves the special summer flavor of
fresh locally grown peas.  

About the author
An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charles Burke is the vice president
of the New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association (www.nhfma.org) and
helps run the Sanbornton Farmers' Market. Along with his wife, Joanne, he
grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in
Sanbornton, NH.  
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