Did you know that you can make broth out of the tough shells of garden peas? Me neither.
But Tamar Adler’s description in An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace filled my head with visions of verdant green broth with a taste like sweet spring peas. Also, the peas I’d planted in fall were finally succumbing to the inevitable white mildew, and when this happens, I cut the trellising strings, drag the entire tangled mass of vines over to the nearest garden bench, and harvest everything edible.
Taichung 13 peas are sugarsnap peas — a cross between English-style garden peas and Chinese snow peas, with the big round peas of the former, the fleshy, edible pods of the latter, and a taste somewhere between the two. They’re perfect for snacking directly off the vine, and rarely actually make it into the house.
Sorting through the vines, I found plenty of big plump pods at the peak of readiness. Also a number of big plump pods rather past the peak of readiness and into shelling territory. Also some starchy, dry, overgrown pods that had been hidden in the interior. And a handful of translucent baby pods. I also grabbed any un-mildewed tendrils, flowers and all — they’re good in salads or sautéed.
I shelled the tough peas and put the pods into into a pot, along with any that had gotten too tough to eat, miscellaneous strings and stems, and a bunch of the tendrils, leaves, and stems.
Also — and this is very important — I tossed in a couple cloves of garlic, half an onion, a few stems of parsley, and salt & pepper. Add or substitute celery, carrots, lovage, or whatever you like and have around, but don’t try to do a broth with nothing but pea shells — I tried it that way and the result tasted like overcooked peas out of a can.
Cover with water and simmer for an hour, then strain out the vegetables.
My broth, alas, was not verdant green, nor did it taste like spring peas straight off the vine. The color was more of a warm olive, and the taste was earthier and more muted than I’d imagined. Not a bad thing, just different. Some of this may be due to my using a different variety of peas; if you want to bring me a few pounds of english peas I’ll try them and let you know. It was also a bit weaker than I think would be ideal, so if you’re trying this at home, make sure you have plenty of pea pods and don’t add more water than it takes to just cover them.
All in all, I’d rate it a perfectly good soup base. Not quite assertive enough to stand on its own, but add some veggies (and a hunk of parmesan rind, if you’ve got one) and you’d have a very nice soup. I don’t know that I’d go out and buy peas solely for the purpose of making this broth, but if you’ve got a pile of pea pods, it’s worth trying.
One last thing: these are the peas that I planted in late fall. Pea season is not over — far from it. You still have time to grow your very own peas, and you should. These ones are Taichung 13; my other favorite is an incredibly sweet, delicious heirloom shelling pea called Laxton’s Progress #9 (or just Progress #9). (The links are to the suppliers whose seeds I happened to buy, because my local nursery happened to carry them; I have no affiliation with either seed company.)
Books mentioned in this post:
An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace
by Tamar Adler, forward by Alice Waters
You should absolutely get this book. It’s one of the few things I’ve read that has changed the way I approach daily cooking. Plus it’s a delight to read. I would lend you my copy, but I keep picking it back up and re-reading bits for inspiration, both culinary and literary. So you’ll have to get your own copy.
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