In the garden: Sweet garden peas and tart cherries
July 20, 2009
BASALT – Luckily for us, our granddaughter Frances was here last week to help with the burgeoning harvest. Together we picked and shelled peas, pitted pie cherries and stripped basil stems of their leaves for pesto.
When peapods are at the perfect stage of ripeness, just filled out but not full to bursting, the bright, smooth, cool pods, held lengthwise, can be popped open the length of their “seams” by quick pressure from your thumbs, leaving two canoe shaped halves, still attached to each other at the stem end. Then a quick scrape of the thumb snaps the peas from their tiny moorings and lets them rattle gently into a pan. Quite a few are intercepted by an open mouth before they ever reach the pan. Like salads when lettuce is in season, we eat peas every day while they last. We rarely have enough left over to freeze for winter but it looks like we might have a bumper crop this year. Lovely!
There is a trick to picking the peas properly too, which Frances has already mastered though she is just 6 years old. Pea plants are quite fragile and not strongly anchored to the ground, so a careless tug on a peapod can rip off a stalk or even yank up the whole plant. Each pea must be plucked crisply from its stem, for which I recommend using both hands.
The pie cherries are ripening too, and Frances helped us pit enough for the first heavenly cherry pie of the season. Then she and Gerry made the pie and I helped eat it. Pitting cherries is a wet, messy business. For years our tree was free of pests aside from robins. We just gouged the fruit with our thumbs to squirt out the pit. Then the western cherry fruit fly found us and now each cherry gets examined for little white worms, the fruit fly larvae. The older generation, that is to say, my generation, raised on homegrown fruit, isn’t fussed about the larvae – why, it’s just extra protein. Of course, vegetarians must expect lots of teasing about chowing down on worm meat.
Too bad the raspberries didn’t really start ripening until after Frances returned home. She is as good at picking raspberries as she is at picking peas. She did get her fair share of the first three ripe berries. And nothing in the world tastes as good as the first raspberry – unless it is the first bite of fresh cherry pie or the first handful of raw peas.