I’ve spent a lifetime struggling to like peas. My aversion to this vegetable started early, when my mother opened that first store-bought can of them. Withered and grayish-green, they resembled one of the oldest vegetables in existence, which, in fact, they are. Robbed of their natural sweet succulence as well as any helpful seasonings, they likewise tasted as though they’d hung out in their can for centuries.
Had my subsequent experiences been tastier I may not have loathed peas so. Yet, each time I forced down spoonfuls of these bland, boiled terrors, I came to the same conclusion—nothing, not even the addition of cheery yet eerily symmetrical carrots, could make me like these shriveled veggies.
Things became complicated when I married a man who loved my nemeses. On paper I could see why he liked them. Chocked full of vitamins A and C, niacin, iron, fiber and protein, they’re highly healthful. They also have a huge following, one which claims that, when plucked fresh from the garden, peas are sweet, crisp and utterly delightful. Unfortunately, in my experience they had come not from my father’s short-lived garden or a local farm stand but from the canned goods aisle of the neighborhood grocery store. It would take more than nutrition and good press to change my opinion about peas.
What it took was a trip to England. Say what you will about British cuisine but the cooks there know how to prepare peas, especially mushy peas. Found in pubs as well as restaurants, these roughly mashed, emerald orbs were the antithesis of my childhood veg. Laced with butter, salt, pepper and a smidgen of creme fraiche, they were luscious, flavorful and, for the first time in my life, enjoyable—so enjoyable that I started requesting them in restaurants and making my own at home.
As one might expect, the key to good peas, mushy or otherwise, is good peas. If fresh aren’t available, go for frozen. Having learned from experience, I avoid canned at all costs.
Fresh peas are at their peak from March through May. If you buy them in their pods, look for plump, unbruised and bright green ones. Leave them in their shells until just before cooking. Be sure to use fresh peas as soon as possible; their sugars quickly convert to starch, giving them the drab, unpleasant flavor that I long associated with them.
MR. GLICKMAN’S GARLIC PEA PUREE
Because I’ve made these garlicky mushy peas countless times for my friend Elliot, they have become more or less his dish.
Serves 4 to 6
10 to 12 garlic cloves, peeled
5 cups frozen or fresh peas
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 to 4 tablespoons creme fraiche
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Sea salt, to taste
Bring a medium saucepan filled with water and garlic to a boil. Cook until the cloves have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the peas and cook for 10 minutes or until quite tender.
Drain and place the vegetables in a food processor or blender. Add the butter, creme fraiche, pepper and salt and pulse until combined but still chunky. Serve warm.