I was a bit of a fussy eater when I was younger. My mother was a wonderful cook, but my taste buds had a limited sense of what was delicious.
Vegetables were the bane of my existence, and like most children who grew up in a house that required you to clean your plate before being excused, I am scarred by the inhumanity of it all.
The standout offenders were creamed spinach, which I still can’t even get a whiff of without losing my appetite, and peas. I spent many hours glaring down at those green orbs, which arrogantly stared back at me knowing I had no dog to bale me out. Fortunately, I tried fresh peas instead of the frozen variety that was served at my childhood table, which ended the feud.
There are two types of peas that are grown in the Alabama garden. English peas, as we call them here in the South, are often called garden peas in other areas of the country. They are a cool-season crop, meaning they do best when planted and harvested when temperatures are a bit cooler. English peas can be planted in spring from March 15 until May 30 and again in the fall during the month of August.
Southern peas, also know as cowpeas, lady peas, field peas, and black-eyes are a warm-season crop that can be planted here in North Alabama from April 15 until July 15. Fall planting of Southern peas is not recommended in our area. English peas germinate best in soil that is about 40 degrees. Soil temperatures should be above 60 degrees for Southern peas to get good seed germination.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System suggest the following varieties:
• English peas: Dual, Knight, Green Arrow;
• Sugar snap peas: Oregon, Sugar Pod II, Sugar Bon, Sugar Snap;
• Blackeyes: Bettergro Blackeye, California Blackeye #5, Magnolia Blackeye, Queen Anne;
• Pinkeyes: Coronet, Pinkeye Purple Hull BVR, Quick Pick;
• Cream (cream with brown-eye): Texas Cream 12, White Acre BVR; and
• Crowders: Hercules, Mississippi Purple, Mississippi Silver, Zipper Cream
Planting varies slightly between English and Southern peas. Both prefer well-drained soil, however, English peas like a soil pH of 5.5 or higher, whereas Southern peas prefer a soil pH of between 6.0 and 6.5. In the absence of a soil test, mix 4-12-12 fertilizer into the top 3 to 6 inches of soil before planting. The three numbers on a bag of fertilizer depict the primary plant nutrients of nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium.
Both English and Southern peas are legumes and therefore require less nitrogen. Fertilize at the rate of 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet for English peas and 15 pounds per 1,000 square feet for Southern peas.
A 1,000-square-foot area is approximately 32 by 32 feet. A 16-by-16-foot plot would require half, and an 8-by-8-foot plot, one-fourth the amount of fertilizer, and so on. One pound of fertilizer is equal to two cups. So, an 8-by-8-foot plot of English peas would require the addition of five cups of fertilizer.
Water sparingly unless plants begin to wilt. Do not allow plants to dry out or no pods will be produced. Pick peas regularly to encourage more pods to develop. Hold the vine securely with one hand and pinch off pods to keep from damaging the plant. Peas can be frozen or will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.
This recipe delivers an appealing visual impact — a smooth-as-silk mild pea flavor that is complimented by browned wild mushrooms — and snaps the predictability of peas. Until next week, happy gardening and bon appétit!
Pea Custard Tart with Wild Mushrooms
Ingredients for the custard
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for ramekins
• 1/3 cup whole milk
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 2 cups shelled fresh garden peas
• Salt and pinch of white pepper
• 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
For the mushrooms
• ½ stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter
• 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• (lemon wedges and strips of lemon zest for serving (optional)
• ½ cup thinly sliced green onion, white and light green areas only
• 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
• 10 ounces wild mushrooms (such as oyster, chanterelle, morel), chopped
• Salt and freshly ground pepper
• ¼ cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter six 6-ounce ramekins, and place in a roasting pan. Combine cream and milk in a bowl.
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add a generous pinch of salt and the peas. Reduce heat, and simmer vigorously until peas are very tender, about 5 minutes. Drain; transfer to a food processor. Add butter, 1 tablespoon cream/milk mixture, and a pinch of salt. Puree until very smooth, 2 to 3 minutes.
Pour puree though a course (larger hole mesh) sieve. Measure out a half-cup strained puree into a bowl, and whisk in eggs, then remaining cream/milk mixture. Strain through a fine sieve. Divide among ramekins.
Bring enough water to a boil to cover the bottom of the roasting pan and reach halfway up the side of the ramekins. Place pan with filled ramekins in oven and add boiling water. Bake until custards are almost completely set, 25 to 30 minutes. Using tongs, transfer ramekins to a wire rack and let cool 30 minutes.
While custards cool, melt butter in a large skillet over high heat until foamy. Add mushrooms and lemon zest; season with salt and pepper. Sauté until mushrooms are golden brown, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in scallions and sauté 1 minute. Add cream and cook 1 minute. Stir in parsley and lemon juice; season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Spoon mushroom mixture equally around custards and garnish with lemon wedges and zest if using. Serve immediately.
— Irland, a member of the Limestone County Master Gardeners, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the Limestone County Master Gardeners, visit http://mg.aces.edu/limestone.