Like every backyard gardener I all too frequently have to deal with various pests that eat my plants and produce. For instance, there are the deer who somehow manage to jump over the 8-foot high fences we installed at great expense just to chomp their way through a hundred feet of decorative hostas. Fortunately, that noxious garlicky spray still seems to fend them off, as long as I remember to reapply it every few weeks, whereby I invariably get it all over myself and am subsequently not fit for human company for several days (one added benefit, however—a good night’s sleep, as I will end up with the bed all to myself, my deep-sleeping, loud-snoring yet olfactorily sensitive husband having decamped to the guest room.) There are also the adorable but destructive bunnies, who have made inroads like to snack on my baby delphiniums as well as the chatty little chipmunks that burrow about the rock gardens and eat the flowers off the lupines. A little powdered coyote urine—and the occasional presence of a real coyote, who apparently feasted on a raccoon in our backyard a while back—helps keep these little critters at bay. And then there are the flocks of crows, mockingbirds and the like that made swift feast of my service-berries and nectarines this year. I’ve learned to place the nets up as soon as the fruit shows the faintest blush of color which I hope will save my blueberries.
So it seems for each species of marauding wildlife I have at least some partial solution. At the same time, part of me appreciates that my gardens have now become valued habitat to the greater natural world. But there is one type of garden intruder I have yet to deter, one that makes its appearance in early June, just as my peas ripen. These voracious marauders attack the pea plants without mercy, grabbing at peas indiscriminately—full and fat and thin and crunchy—until all that is left is a trail of empty pods and ravaged vines. Unfortunately, none of the above methods—the sprays, powders or fences—will work against these pests. Afterall, I actually planted the peas just for them. And as a mother, I’m more than a little happy to see the little buggers eating their vegetables. Of course, I’m talking about my sons, Josh, (almost) 6, and Jake, 4. Fresh garden peas are the perfect veggie for young children; they are super sweet and come in their own attractive little carrying cases; opening them is part of the fun. However, after four years of digging out my garden and planting in the cold of early March, erecting fences for the vines to climb over and tending and tying them when they insist on growing over the ground I would for once like to be able to eat the resultant crop. And not just the handful of pods that were hidden from my son’s hyperactive foraging. This year I had dreams of a lovely risotto with fresh peas or a one of those creamy pea purees like you might get in a restaurant such as Blue Hill this time of year.
So I planted several extra rows this year. And I better orchestrated my sons’ harvests so they managed to remove only the fruit and not half the vines this year. Then I picked and picked. Soon I had two large bags worth of pods. I took them into the kitchen gleefully and started to open them. Inside were the peas, ranging from fully round and ripe to little ovoid flecks, not yet engorged. Yet all were sweet and delicious—I could not resist the temptation to eat as I opened. So, unfortunately, after half an hour I realized I had but a small pile of peas and a large pile of empty pods. Perfect for the compost, not so great for my soup. Meanwhile, it was getting late and the boys were getting hungry. Even if I had more peas in the garden I wouldn’t have time to prepare them all before I had a mutiny on my hands. It’s then I had an idea—the peas were flavorful enough, they didn’t have to be the main ingredient in my soup. What if I just added them to one of my most dependable, easy-to-make recipes? And so I did; I prepared the family favorite, ‘Kosher Split Pea Soup’ (which uses fried Hebrew National Salami as a base instead of Ham Hocks) and handed each family member a pile of pea pods along with their bowl of steaming soup. Everyone had fun opening and adding their own peas, which cooked to perfection immediately in the cooling soup. The best part—no need for me to open them all myself, and they weren’t all mushy and overcooked even by the time my husband came home.
Here’s the recipe:
One Hebrew National Salami
Two ribs celery
One package yellow split peas
5 cups water or soup stock
Quinoa, barley or other grain
Fresh garden peas
Cut the salami to bite-size pieces and fry until browned in the bottom of large soup-pot. Cut small the onion, carrots and celery and let sautee in the fat from the salami until the onions are clear. Add water or stock and split peas (rinsed). Let boil and then add grain and simmer. When the split peas are fully softened add the corn and turn off the pot. Serve in bowls alongside the garden peas still in the pods. Add peas per taste and swirl in bowl; they will cook almost instantaneously. Eat and enjoy a taste of late spring!