Despite my years of high end professional cooking, I still love the simplest activities the best—shaping dough, cutting fruit, making soup, and cleaning vegetables. I love the meditative quality of these tasks, and the feeling of handling the raw, fresh, and therefore most pure elements of dishes, and then seeing them celebrated in finished form. Last night, with spent muscles and an airy state of post-yoga bliss, I came home to a bag of sugar snap peas. I settled on the couch with a bowl and picked through the snap peas, crisply breaking off the tops, eating some of the cleaned ones raw, and saving the rest for dinner. Honestly, it was more like half and half. That is one of the perks and dangers of cleaning vegetables—eating the beautiful things as you work through them. It’s easy to suddenly have very little left for cooking.
Sugar snap peas, snow peas, and split peas are actually all the same species, Pisum sativum, different cultivars. The two with edible pods are sugar snap peas, varietal macrocarpon, and snow peas, varietal saccharatum, both in abundance in local farmers’ markets right now. The sugar snap pea is actually a derivative of the snow pea. It has been grown since at least the nineteenth century, although it was known as the “butter pea” or “butter sugar pea.” In the late seventies, it became best known by its current name, the “sugar snap pea,” after a cultivar sold by the Gallatin Valley Seed Company.
The pea’s history, however, is much more ancient. The earliest evidence of peas being eaten is as primarily as a pulse crop, or a dried legume, now marketed as the “split pea.” The first evidence is from eight thousand years ago in Neolithic Syria, Turkey, and Jordan. Later dated finds have been located in Egypt, then Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. In the Middle Ages, the pea gained popularity in Europe, primarily England and France, where in later years during the 17th and 18th centuries, eating the green peas fresh in the spring as opposed to dried became more common, giving the fresh spring pea the name “English pea.” The fruit of this plant is not the only edible part. The young tendrils of the plant, known as pea sprouts, or in Chinese as “dòu miáo,” are also incredibly delicious.
One of my favorite places to get the crisp and sweet sugar snap peas that are so perfect in the spring is from Full Belly Farm. This duel-family owned farm occupies 200 beautiful acres in Guinda where they sustainably raise 120 different crops and keep over 20 acres of riparian habitat and California native plants. Dru Rivers and Paul Muller began working on the rented farmland in the eighties, but when the opportunity came to purchase the farm in 1989 they joined forces with Judith Redmond and her husband and Full Belly Farm, Inc. was born. They began selling primarily wholesale, but in 1992, they began their legendary CSA while maintaining their very personal wholesale relationships with some of the most venerated restaurants in the Bay Area because after all, farming is just as much about people as it is the land and the food. In addition to the four partners that own the farm, there are fifty full time employees, many of whom have been a part of the farm for decades. Ten have been with the farm for ten years, and another ten have been with the farm since its establishment in 1989. Community education is another core value of the farm, and to that end, they have an internship program which is helping to shape and inform a new generation of farmers. They are also the hosts of the famed annual “Hoes Down” festival, an all-day festival of educational workshops, farm tours, live music, hay rides, and of course, delicious food, this year slated for October 1st and 2nd. Hoes Down is not the only time to pay the farm a little visit–you can visit the farm any week at their farm stand to buy their beautiful and perfect produce, including sugar snap peas, on Fridays between the hours of 2 and 6 pm.
Visit Full Belly Farm’s website for further information.