A couple weeks ago, the fickle Spring weather seemed determined to let March exit with one last cold and rainy hurrah…a final withering retaliation of bitter winter. One day in particular was grey, cold and misty, a mist that suspended in the air throughout the day and hovered over the lush green landscape. It was the kind of weather that made me miss England and holding a Cadbury’s Twirl over my little tea-stained mug of boiled water, waiting patiently for it to get all melty.
But as March bid farewell, so did the cold and I’ve seen daffodils, dandelions and wild African violet colored flowers appearing all over the place, providing lovely pops of color that inform us spring is not teasing us anymore. I’ve been enjoying the smell of the fresh air drifting through open windows, pinning stray wildflowers behind my ear, afternoon thunderstorms and fresh peas.
Last weekend, we had a couple friends over and we made a southern spring meal, inspired by Edna Lewis, which all started with her excerpt on green peas in cream, from The Taste of Country Cooking – a seasonally structured collection of food-related anecdotes from her childhood in the south, simple but beautifully written. I love creamed corn, I like peas and my mom used to make creamed peas, so reading this got me inspired and stirred something in me. I decided to make these peas in cream for dinner, along with a roast chicken, buttermilk mashed potatoes, a spring salad of radishes, watercress and goat cheese, cream biscuits and raspberry cream brown betty for dessert.
We ended up doing buttermilk fried chicken instead and were dying to try the recipe in the Clinton Street Baking Company Cookbook, which also provided a sweet and savory sauce accompaniment – a tabasco-honey sauce that accentuated the flavor of the juicy fried chicken. I picked up some freshly shelled green peas from a little farmer’s market (the first time I’ve ever had fresh peas!), some watercress (or pea tendrils – they looked like they could be passed off as either one and I just couldn’t distinguish), and some snap peas in their pods. This was also the first time I’ve done anything with watercress/pea tendrils and rinsing off the rutty dirt and weed remnants in the colander made me glad because I knew they came straight from the earth, to a truck and right to the market and into my hands. I tossed the greens with some mache and a sherry-dijon-honey vinaigrette and then topped the salads with little dollops of goat cheese, thinly sliced radishes and the pea pods. The result was a freshly crisp spring salad that was just what I was aiming for, save for the pea pods which I apparently didn’t boil long enough because they were a little al dente.
The chicken was all Jay’s and they tangoed marvelously, especially after the chicken’s generous and indulgent bath overnight in the buttermilk and herb mixture. Though their appearance seemed homely and weathered, the cream biscuits were a wonderful surprise, rich and tender and perfect with a drizzle of honey (or with raspberry jam for breakfast the next morning). As an added bonus, they were really unfussy and easy to make (although I can only take credit for suggesting the recipe, since Jay made them). Mashed potatoes are kind of self-explanatory, I whip them to a frenzy, alternating with gradually adding buttermilk, butter and finally some salt and pepper. Dessert was a disappointment to me, especially since I had been looking forward to it all week. It was more like a soupy bread pudding with its excessive amount of liquid, since the “cream” part wasn’t quite a custard. It lacked thickness and was too sweet, more like a creme anglaise, but we all ate it nonetheless. It would be a great shame to let fresh vanilla bean, challah and raspberries go to waste! I’m definitely the most self-critical about my desserts. I know they all can’t be home runs and the flops and failures help me learn, but it still drives me crazy when my hopes are high and the dessert doesn’t measure up. However, I do see a favorite, fool-proof banana pudding in the very near future ; )
Now, lastly, let’s finally talk about these peas. You boil them for a few minutes, drain them, set them aside and bring some cream to a boil for just a minute or two. Then you cover the peas in the hot cream, add some butter and give them a gentle “swish,” as Lewis says. She says to serve them with some fresh chervil sprinkled on top but I didn’t have any. I also added about a tablespoon of flour which really isn’t necessary but I just wanted to thicken the mixture a little. Either way, they are exquisite and will absolutely change the way you think of peas, especially if you’re a skeptic or one of those who is still traumatized by childhood memories of being forced to shovel heaping spoonfuls of mushy canned/frozen peas before being excused from the dinner table. Luckily, this never happened to me and I’ve never had any wrinkled up nose reactions to the delicate little vegetable. Just trust Edna on this one, it’s simple, clean, decadent and will totally make you forget you’re eating vegetables, let alone peas (again, if you’re typically not a fan).
Green Peas in Cream
By: Edna Lewis
-4 cups of cold water
-3 cups of shelled tender peas
-1 TBSP sugar
-1 scant tsp salt
-1 cup of heavy cream
-2 TBSP of butter
-1/2 TBSP of fresh, finely cut chervil (optional)
*Optional: 1 TBSP of flour
*I STRONGLY recommend using fresh peas for this recipe, as the freshness is evident and makes a huge difference, but if you don’t use fresh peas, keep in mind they will probably take about 25 min. to cook instead of 10.*
- In a 2-quart saucepan bring 4 cups of water to a boil and drop in the peas, a few at a time, then add the sugar and salt. Boil for about 10 minutes or so, until peas are tender but not mushy.
- Drain the liquid and set the peas aside. Pour the cream into a 9-inch skillet and bring to a boil for 1-2 minutes. Then poor the boiling cream over the peas, add the butter and swish around in the pan. Keep them hot before serving but do not cook them any longer. Sprinkle with fresh chervil if desired.
Eat them all up and if your dessert failed like mine did, have some more of these peas because they’re just as sinful as some chocolate mousse…in a different kind of way of course. Then boast to your mom that you ate all your greens ; )
Sadly there are no fried chicken, mashed potatoes or creamed pea pictures but the above photo captures the delectable cream biscuits, happily devoured the next morning, alongside some fresh basil, tomato, mozzarella scramble and some crack bacon. Okay, so it’s not called “crack” bacon, it’s Clinton Street’s sugar-cured bacon that was basically like bacon cotton candy except for the texture. We used HALF the amount of sugar it called for and it was still so rich and sugary, it was too much like candy and I could barely make it through half of my piece. It was still fun though.
Now go forth and make peas in cream!