Friday, August 29, 2014

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About . . .

. . . shell peas.

A couple of days ago (or maybe it was many days ago, because you know how time flies when you're spending quality time in the kitchen with boat loads of fresh produce . . . day after day after day), Kristina at Pioneer Woman at Heart asked me if I would explain how I planted, harvested and preserved my shell peas.

This kind of post is one in which I could start talking and not realize when to stop so please excuse my verbosity.  I would have been a terrible teacher because when I try to answer a question or explain something, I seem to feel I must impart every single bit of knowledge concerning the subject that I have stashed away in my wee little noggin.  Being concise and to the point is difficult.

However, putting these thoughts of my inadequacies aside, let's talk peas.

Next to sweet corn grown in our garden (which is a moot point since we cannot successfully grow sweet corn in our garden here in northern Minnesota), fresh frozen shell peas are our most favorite vegetable during the winter months.  Lucky we are in that we can grow those little, round, green gems here in northern Minnesota.

I regularly plant Lincoln peas . . . an old-fashioned, heirloom variety that does extremely well for me.  When we lived in Illinois I planted them there, too, so I'm assuming they do well in many climates.  Every few years I get the notion I should try another variety that offers outstanding qualities (according to those gorgeous seed catalogs that lure you right in), but inevitably I go back to the good ol', tried and true Lincoln pea seeds.

Supposedly it's not absolutely necessary to plant peas with a trellis for support, but it's been my experience that they grow better and produce more peas if you do trellis them.  Plus (and who wouldn't opt for this), they are so much cleaner and easier to pick when in an upright (both you and the peas) position.

I love cattle panels for trellises and that's what I use for my peas.  Cattle panels are initially a tad expensive, but they last forever even when stored outside in our long, snow-filled winters.  They come in 16' lengths, but for ease of handling, we cut ours into 8' sections which are plenty heavy enough to (wo)manhandle around the garden.  The panels are 52" high.  I stake them up using a length (about 6' long) of rebar which has been pounded into the ground at each end of the 8' section, and then tying the cattle panel to the rebar.

I till up the soil on either side of the cattle panel trellis with my handy-dandy Mantis tiller.  I gardened for many, many years without this wonderful tool, but looking back I don't know how I did it.  It makes a seed bed that can't be beat.  When the seed bed has been prepared, on each side of the trellis I plant pea seeds in two staggered rows, the first one about 1" out from the trellis, the second row about 1-1/2" farther out from the first row.  I just push the peas seed about 1" down into the soil and bring the dirt back to cover the hole and pat it down.  I do this along the full 16' of the trellis.  Then I go to the other side of the trellis and do the same thing.

To harvest enough peas to last through the winter for the two of us, I always plant two 16' trellised rows, the rows 4' apart.  With peas planted on either side of each trellis that comes out to 64' of shell peas.  Yes, a bit of garden space allotted just to peas, but if I want enough of them that's what I have to do.

The pods growing on the vines will mature to the proper size (not all at once) over a period of about three weeks.  (At least in our locale that's the timetable.)  It's important to keep the peas picked or the vines will stop producing more peas.

I'm a real stickler when it comes to getting a crop from garden to freezer (or canned) in the shortest amount of time possible.  With so many vegetables, the moment they are picked the natural sugars start changing to starch (which, of course, we don't want to happen) so I try to move as smoothly and quickly as possible to get the peas processed and in the freezer.  (I never can peas, but always freeze them.  We think the fresh frozen peas taste just as good as ones straight out of the garden . . . even in February!)

I bring the picked pea pods inside and remove the peas from the pods.  This takes time, but it's a perfect opportunity for visiting if you have a friend who offers to help (or kids you can coerce into helping), listening to an audio book or watching a good program you recorded from TV.

The shelled peas go into a blanching basket.  Mine is a well-used wire contraption once used for hot oil frying, I think.

The whole basket of peas is carefully lowered into a pot of water which has been brought to a rolling boil.  I blanch the peas for a carefully timed one minute and thirty seconds.

After blanching any vegetable, you are advised to cool it as soon as possible (thereby stopping the "cooking" process) by submerging in ice water.  The water from our well is very, very cold so I hold the basket of blanched peas in a big bowl of cold water while running more cold water over and through the peas.

Then the peas are dumped into a colander and left to drain for a few minutes.

All that is left is to package them for the freezer.  One and one-half cups of peas is the right amount for a meal for the two of us.  I fill small sandwich size bags with the measured amount, lay the filled bags flat on a cookie sheet and put into a freezer until frozen solid.  Then I package the individual bags into a gallon freezer bag and store back in the freezer.  Whenever I want to serve peas with a meal, I reach into the freezer bag and pull out one of the smaller bags, drop the contents into water in a small saucepan until the water boils.  Peas are done, drained and seasoned with a pat of butter before portioning out onto our two plates.

I usually aim for having about 40 servings of peas in the freezer to get us through from late fall to early spring time.  This year I currently have 37 servings in the freezer and don't plan on getting any more from the vines that are left in the garden.  (As you can see from the picture of the two peas rows above, my vines are pretty well spent and starting to turn yellow.  I'm hoping to let some of the "over-matured" pods dry on the vine and use them for seed next year.)  Harvest of the peas would usually have been earlier than it was this year, but our very cold spring and early summer challenged everything in the garden and set it back a bit.

Hope this helps explain, Kristina, how I grow and preserve my shell peas.  Anybody still reading?  Yep, I did use lots of words and perhaps say more than you wanted to know! 


Sue said...

Even though I know how to do peas---I hung on every word until the end just because!!
Cattle panels are the greatest thing for the garden . We bought a dozen of them a few years back and we want some more......cuz I'm gonna start doing my peas like MAMA PEA!! I usually only plant two of my arching panels in the garden--I only grow enough to snack on, but think I will do this is you come down and help shell.
Pretty Please??

tpals said...

Very comprehensive explanation. Thanks!

Pioneer Woman at Heart said...

I was going to ask if you freeze or can them. Hubby prefers me to freeze for nutrition and flavor. I am so glad you posted this, because I am super excited to plant some next year. I will have to have Hubby till up more land and get more fencing, but that is why I wanted to plan early. Thank you sooooo much for explaining all this. I'll be checking out thrift stores for a nice blanching basket like yours too.

Tami said...

I'll have to look for Lincoln peas and give them a try. I didn't like the last "English pea" we tried so I stopped growing them and went with sugar peas that we just fresh eat in season.

Anonymous said...

Like Sue, I hung on every word until the end. Really enjoyed your post very much. I am new to your blog
found it over at Pioneer Woman at Heart. I made notes on how to plant them in my garden note book for next year.

Mama Pea said...

Sue - Well, bless your little pea-pickin' heart! (Pun intended.) :o)

We could shell enough peas for all the gardeners in Michigan and Minnesota . . . if we were across the table from each other talking!

Mama Pea said...

tpals - You are sooooo welcome!

Mama Pea said...

Kristina - That's the problem with canning any of the produce from our gardens . . . the canning process cooks the heck out of the product and destroys so many of the good, good enzymes. It's a conundrum . . . canned foods are so much more readily available (just open and heat) and are not affected by power outages as things in the freezers are.

I have an actual "blanching basket" but the holes in it are so big that peas sneak right out through the holes! Fine for bigger veggies though.

Glad you suggested this post, Kristina. If you have any more questions, I'll answer them to the best of my ability.

Mama Pea said...

Tami - I hope the Lincoln variety works for you. Back in Illinois we used to be able to plant them in March so I'm sure they would make an even earlier crop for you in your locale.

Mama Pea said...

Rue - Hey, welcome and thanks for coming over from Kristina's blog! Thank you for the nice words on this post. (Only a dyed-in-the-wool gardener would be interested in a blurb like this!)

Content in a Cottage said...

I have such fond memories of shelling peas and butter beans with my grandmother. I hope you had some help shelling yours. Great post. Thank you.
Have a great Labor Day.
xo, Rosemary

M.E. Masterson said...

Fabulous! This is very helpful.... we wondered if the panels will work...we used chicken wire this year NOT a good idea!

Unknown said...

No, you didn't use too many words, it was perfect for those of us who hadn't done it before. I like peas but they were tough to grow when living in Florida. Here, I think I'll try a few rows next spring. Thanks so much. Jan in NWGA

Mama Pea said...

Rosemary - I have to admit I don't mind shelling peas at all (and my daughter loves to do it, too . . . lucky me!) but I'm not fond (for some reason) of prepping beans for blanching. Having an audio book to listen while I do them helps a lot.

Thanks for the kind words!

Mama Pea said...

M.E.Masterson - Yes, I've tried chicken wire many years ago. It's not tall enough or strong enough. Plus trying to coax the pea vines to let go of it when they need to be pulled is impossible! You'll find the cattle panels just the ticket!

Mama Pea said...

Jan - I'll bet you'll be able to get your peas in really early in your locale! Even the little, new sprouts poking through the soil are very frost hardy. You can plant as soon as the ground is workable. Good luck!

Lisa B said...

MamaPea I use cattle panels for tomatoes as well. We use t-stakes and make the panels in a V shape off the ground about a foot. Plant tomatoes inside and train vines through the holes. It works well.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Mama Pea! I even pinned it on Pinterest so everyone can glean from your knowledge!

Mama Pea said...

Lisa - What a good idea for "staking" up the tomatoes! Gotta love those cattle panels!

Mama Pea said...

Stephanie - I don't know how much knowledge I have, but this method has worked well for me for many years. You're welcome!