Thursday, November 03, 2005

Green peas from Adam and Eve.

Today, November 3rd …

Today is the anniversary in 1952, of the introduction of frozen peas by the Birdseye company, which set me thinking about pease, peas, and petits pois, as well as food preservation and food snobbery.

Freezing is only a modern way of keeping the crop after all, and I am told that a lot of chefs prefer to use them over the fresh variety. I’ll bet they don't admit it though. As for canned peas, they say the French prefer them over frozen, which is either malicious gossip or a dirty little Gallic secret.

From ancient times, “pease”, or field peas were grown specifically for drying, and provided basic sustenance for the poor. Garden peas were developed and perfected later, and by the second half of the seventeenth century, the French court was in raptures over petits pois. Eating fresh peas from the pod was so ridiculously extravagant, they became à la mode almost overnight with the rich and powerful, or at least their mistresses. The Marquise de Maintenon, secret second wife of Louis XIV summed it all up in a letter in 1695:

" There are some ladies who, after having supped with the King, and well supped too, help themselves to peas at home before going to bed at the risk of indigestion. It is both a fashion and a madness."

Here is my favourite old recipe for peas (although the “Green Peas Tart” nearly won), from a little book called “Adam’s luxury, and Eve’s cookery; or, the kitchen-garden display’d …”, published in England in 1774. An intriguing title, is it not? The sisterhood would say that some things haven’t changed for centuries.

Peas the Portuguese Way.
Wash your Peas, cut in some Lettuce, with a Lump of Sugar, some fine Oil, a few Mint Leaves cut small, with Parsley, Onions, Shallots, Garlick, Winter Savory, Nutmeg, Salt, Pepper, and a little Broth; put them over the Fire, and when ‘tis almost ready, poach some new Eggs in it, making a Place for each Egg to lie in; then cover your Stew pan again, and boil your Eggs with a little fire upon the Cover; then slide them into your Dish, and serve them.

Makes Eggs Florentine look a bit wimpy, doesn’t it?

Tomorrow … Marmalade, madams, and maladies.

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