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peas

New Potatoes & Peas from a Home Kitchen Garden

A bowl of hot New Potatoes and Peas goes well with just about any meal. As an omnivore, I especially like this dish with steak or pork—seasoned with onion powder, salt, and pepper and then grilled. New Potatoes and Peas can even satisfy as a main course.

Few meals I cook from my home kitchen garden excite me as much as New Potatoes and Peas. This is not a difficult dish to prepare, and it’s not a particularly brilliant assortment of culinary preparations. Rather, it’s a simple, traditional, hearty, and historical dish that I imagine gardeners have prepared for centuries.

My dad grew up eating New Potatoes and Peas, so my mom had to learn how to make them. Of course, I needed to learn how when I moved out on my own. I’m inviting you to participate in the tradition in hopes you’ll enjoy this fine dish as much as I do, and that it will provide you with further motivation to get gardening in the spring.

Red Potatoes & Peas from a Home Kitchen Garden

Use about a quart of new, red-skinned potatoes if they’re small, or, perhaps, five full-grown newly-harvested potatoes. Also, use about two cups of freshly-hulled peas. You’re not going to peel the potatoes, so scrub them thoroughly (I use a stiff-bristled plastic vegetable brush). Nothing spoils a serving of New Potatoes and Peas more than biting into a trace of residual garden soil.

Are There Peas in your Home Kitchen Garden?

I don’t grow a home kitchen garden for survival, though I love how homegrown produce decreases my grocery expenses. Mostly, I grow vegetables and fruits because they’re so incredibly better than their store-bought equivalents. Peas are among the most impressively better vegetables. In my hardiness zone 5b/6a neighborhood, these sweet, delicious garden pearls come ready in mid-to-late spring and last until early summer.

Sadly, my pea plants have given up, despite continued cool nights. That’s OK, because I need the space for winter squash and herbs, but I always lament the passing of the pea plants. For those who can still get garden fresh peas, please make up a batch of New Potatoes and Peas and tell me what you think.

If you’re using large potatoes, cut them into bite-sized pieces. I cut mine even smaller than traditional whole new potatoes which run an inch or two in diameter. Whether you cut them up or use whole potatoes, you must cook them before preparing the rest of the dish. Put them in a pot that is only half full with the potatoes in it; you’ll eventually finish the dish in this pot. Cover the potatoes with water and then, for the most authentic results, boil the potatoes until they soften but are not mushy. After the water starts to boil, I poke a cooking potato with a fork every three minutes or so. If the fork punctures the surface easily but the inner flesh is still firm, the potatoes are done. To be certain, lift one from the pot, cool it down quickly in water, and eat it. If it’s too crispy for your taste, let them cook a bit longer. To hold the potatoes until the rest of the dish is ready, pour off the hot water and leave the potatoes in the pot, uncovered.

The peas shouldn’t need much cooking. My mom usually didn’t cook them at all before adding them to the cream sauce (in a later step). I usually pour boiling water from the potatoes into a much smaller pot holding the peas and then boil the peas for three to five minutes. Don’t cook them really long or you’ll boil the flavor and character out of them. To hold the peas after cooking, pour off the hot water and fill the pot with cold water. Set the peas aside.

What Are New Potatoes?

Potato plants aren’t lovers of frost, but you can plant potatoes a few weeks before the last frost date in your area. If you do that, and you plant peas about the same time, the potato plants are likely to have made little potatoes by the time you’re harvesting peas.

These small potatoes would become full-grown potatoes if given the chance. However, when you harvest “new potatoes,” you sacrifice the plant (though I’ve heard that if you plant in a potato tower or box, you can harvest young potatoes from below and leave the plant to continue producing through the summer).

You don’t need to grow your own to get good new potatoes. However, shop at a farmers’ market or a growers’ market if you want the best. For New Potatoes and Peas, look for red-skinned potatoes that are one- to two-inches in diameter. It’s OK to get larger potatoes; I do it all the time and have never been disappointed. Often it’s hard to find small potatoes, but if you find this year’s red-skinned potatoes of any size, they’ll make the dish authentic.

Melt four or five tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan while slicing up a medium-sized onion (or half of a large Spanish onion). I like big chunks, but feel free to dice your onion. Sauté the onion over medium-high heat until the chunks become translucent. You’re going to make roux (flour and butter mixed), so add one tablespoon of flour for each tablespoon of butter you melted in the first place.

Toss the onions in the flour and stir it around until the flour soaks up all the butter in the pan. If the flour and butter mixture is runny, add more flour until the roux is just shy of clumping… but don’t panic if it clumps; you’re fine as long as you can mix in all the flour that you’ve added.

Finally, add milk (traditionally, you use cream… and by all means go ahead if you don’t mind the fat), stirring constantly until the milk gets very hot and the mixture thickens. How much milk to add? Roughly, add three-to-four cups of milk. Start with less, heat till it’s thick, and add more milk if the mixture is too thick. The sauce should stick to the onion chunks and “give” like thin pudding; it shouldn’t run off the spoon when you scoop it out of the pan and pour it back in, but it shouldn’t be so thick that you could cut it with a knife.

Recipe? Sorry… No Recipe

I’m afraid I don’t have a recipe for New Potatoes and Peas. I make up each pot depending on how many diners I expect, how many peas I have, and how many potatoes. The illustrations show the steps with enough explanation that you should be able to improvise adequately. I followed my mom’s recipe once, and the results were nothing like what mom used to make. Follow the instructions in the figure captions, and you’ll know how to succeed every time.

Take the onion sauce off the heat and pour all the water off the potatoes. Put the pot of potatoes on the hot burner and immediately pour in the onions and cream sauce. Quickly strain the peas and add them to the pot. Stir it all together as it heats, and add salt and pepper to taste.

 

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My first harvest of peas each spring is always about this overwhelming. I had taken a quart basket to the garden with me to handle the bounty.

My home kitchen garden has blessed me with my first home-grown peas of 2009. The pea harvest is, perhaps, my favorite of all harvests through a growing season. So, naturally, as the pods emerge I become, perhaps, overly vigilant: I check my vines each morning and again in the evening, looking for the first ones plump with green pearls.

Today I picked the first full pods. Usually, the first harvest is only a small handful that sits a day or two in the fridge until enough others grow plump to make a side dish or a meal. As you can see from the first photo, today was no different: I harvested only a small handful of pods.

My eagerness clouded my judgement. The peas I removed from these pods should have stayed podded for at least another day… and I enjoyed eating them.

Of course, in my excitement for the first harvest, I sometimes choose a few pods that aren’t quite filled out. Despite having been very selective today, it happened again. But fortunately only three of the pods I picked were a tad underdeveloped.

Now that I’d removed them from their plants, they weren’t going to grow fuller… and I can’t abide using such immature peas in my cooking. Betcha can guess what happened to the peas. Sure, and they tasted swell.

 

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Young pea plants have a very distinctive appearance. If this is your first season growing peas, watch for emerging seedlings that look like these. Presumably, anything else growing within a few inches is a weed you should remove.

I once had a minor epiphany in my home kitchen garden, and it has come to mind repeatedly as I’ve started working the soil this year. This post shares that epiphany, but with a disclaimer: I called it a minor epiphany because, really, it was more of a reminder of something we all know—or should know—as gardeners.

OK, we all know it, but I suspect that most of us think little about it. The spring pea crop of 2004 (I think it was 2004) brought it home in a most profound way. That’s right; my minor epiphany came to me through my pea plants.

Spring Peas

As in most years, I planted three 14-foot long double rows of peas in April of 2004. The garden was probably very muddy when I planted because it was probably raining.

The peas sprouted and grew vigorously, apparently drinking happily of the copious water that fell on them nearly every day. On days it didn’t rain, skies remained overcast, so the soil didn’t dry out; there was more moisture in the soil than any sane vegetable gardener would want.

On those rainless days, I’d mow the lawn, dumping six or more inches of grass clippings between the planting rows of my garden. The grass-clipping mulch grew high, but the peas grew higher. In no time they reached the tops of my pea trellises. Along the way, the pea plants started flowering and, thankfully, pea pods formed.

I’d check the pods each day, in hopes of finding harvestable peas. But lo, each day the pods were flat.

A wall of peas grows up the trellis in my garden. The trellis runs between two rows of pea plants spaced about six inches apart. It tops out at about four-and-a-half feet, and in several weeks, the pea plants will extend above it.

A Growing Pea Crisis

The clouds and rain continued, I kept mowing more than I wanted, the pea vines grew ever upward, and more pea pods emerged on the plants. By late May or early June, there were three thick walls of pea vines clinging to trellises in my garden. The plants were covered with pods, but I had not yet harvested any of them; I wanted peas, not snow peas.

I was both puzzled and miffed by the behavior of my pea plants. I’d grown this variety for years because they’d been reliable. Now, apparently, they’d turned on me.

Typically, pods form a few inches behind the leading ends of the pea vines. As the vines grow upward, lower pods plump up and you harvest them. A few days later, you harvest peas a little higher up the plant, and so on.

And the Epiphany

After more than a month of continuous overcast skies, the clouds cleared. We had a most gorgeous sunny day. That gave way to another sunny day, and then a third. By now you know where this is headed, right?

Round about sunny day three, every single pea pod on my trellises was plump and ready to harvest. Harvesting peas eight or nine times a season for fifteen minutes at a time is relaxing and enjoyable. Harvesting all those peas in one day is not.

As I cursed the massive load of peas, I also marveled: Peas hadn’t developed in the past month because there had been so little sunlight; the plants put what energy they could into growing. But until the sun shown through, there had been no extra energy to stockpile.

Sure, we all know that plants need sunlight to grow. But it was a real rush to see such a dramatic expression of the phenomenon: Plants capture the energy of sunlight through chemical reactions that release oxygen into the air and assemble molecules into food. All that good stuff I harvest from my garden would not exist but for extraterrestrial-light-powered plant factories that build fundamental links of our food chain.

Bring on the sun!

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