The parking lot at University Avenue and Sixth Street bursts with flavor each Wednesday and Saturday now that summer is upon us.
Farmers drive from the outskirts of town, sometimes from Texas and Oklahoma, to share round lemon cucumbers, deep purple grapes, brown paper bags filled with spinach leaves. June at the Las Vegas Farmers’ Market means the first tender greens, means succulent organic strawberries, means baskets of elongated lime-green pods filled with delectable sweet peas.
Beloved by both children and adults, sweet peas are one of summer’s favorite vegetables. If you have sweet pea plants in your garden, you can pick the fresh pea pods off the vine, shell them and eat them raw, for a delicious, and healthy snack.
The pods are edible, too, an an excellent source of minerals and fiber. Sweet peas are one of the hardier vegetables. Sometimes called snow peas, they get their name as young seedlings can survive frosts, freezes and even snow.
Seeds of primitive peas have been found dating back over 5,000 years to the Bronze Age. The Aryans from the East introduced peas to the Greeks and Romans, who grew them before the Christian Era. Greek and Roman writings indicate that the crop was held in no special favor. “Green peas” didn’t make an appearance in history until after the Norman Conquest of England.
In the 12th century, among other foods stored at the famous old Barking Nunnery, near London, were “green peas for Lent.” Garden peas, such as sweet peas, were not common until the 18th century. Toward the end of the 17th century they were still such a rare delicacy that fantastic prices were paid for them by French noblemen.
The flowers of the sweet pea plant are not edible, but can provide cosmetic benefits in addition to being pretty additions to any floral arrangement. You can make a wonderful, reviving steam bath for your face by adding four heaped teaspoons of fresh sweet pea petals to a bowl or basin of boiling water. Bend over the bowl so that the steam is close to your face, and cover your head with a towel draped to form a tent. Allow your skin to steam for ten minutes. This deeply cleans the skin by opening pores and lifting out impurities.
It’s easy to enjoy a basket of fresh sweet peas from the farmer’s market. Look for firm, tender pods without blemishes for best results. Peas can be added to salads, stir-fries, pastas, as well as lightly steamed and enjoyed on their own with a pat of creamy butter. Here are two recipes for sweet peas, one for a pot-luck style salad, the other for a delicious and healthy pasta dish. Make sure to patronize the local farmer’s market this weekend, and get your sweet pea fix!
Sweet Pea Salad
1 lb. sweet peas, cooked
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1/2 c. sour cream
2 tbsp. white horseradish, well drained
1 tbsp. Dijon style mustard
1/4 c. chopped fresh dill or 1 tbsp. dried dill weed (reserve 1 tsp. for garnish)
Black pepper to taste
Mix together. Add to peas and toss. Garnish with leftover dill weed. Chill covered at least 1 hour before serving.
Sweet Pea Pasta
12 ounces fettuccine or spaghetti noodles
6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lb. potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
A dash of salt and pepper
2 lbs. sweet peas in their pods (2 cups shelled)
6 scallions, trimmed and chopped
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese