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.
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.
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.
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.
A platter of crackers and cream cheese topped with a half cup of red pepper relish makes an attractive presentation on an hors d’oeuvres table.
If you grow bell peppers in your home kitchen garden, please try this; it’s astonishingly simple, and crazy delicious: Make and preserve red pepper relish to serve as an hors d’oeuvre at dinners throughout the coming year.
My garden is long abed, but I scored some inexpensive red peppers at the local Mennonite grocery store, so I just made up a batch of red pepper relish. While it takes about six hours from start to finish, your actual involvement will be closer to one hour: 30 minutes to prepare the peppers and start them cooking, and 30 minutes to prepare canning jars and can the finished relish.
From what you see in a grocery store, you’d think there are bell peppers, and red bell peppers: two varieties. Truth is, a bell pepper is a bell pepper, and red ones have simply remained on the plant longer than the green ones have. If your growing season doesn’t provide three and a half months of consecutive warm days, start plants indoors and transplant them when your garden’s soil warms up past 65 degrees… green bell peppers want to be red, but they need a lot of time to get there.
Ingredients for red pepper relish are few: 12 large red peppers (I used 14 cuz mine were small), a tablespoon of salt, 3 cups of sugar, and a pint of cider vinegar.
Red pepper relish is a mash of ground-up, sweet, sticky, pickled red peppers. The uninitiated may wonder: how can that be tasty? If you’re skeptical, please take my word for it and make one batch. When you decide you don’t like it, send me your spare inventory and I’ll reimburse you for the shipping cost. Better still, serve it at a dinner party, watch who hangs around the relish tray, and give a jar to that person as a house gift the next time you visit them.
My mother-in-law introduced me to this delicacy, and the recipe I’m sharing here is the one she gave me; I don’t know where she got it, but I’m glad she did. Here’s how to use your red pepper relish:
You’ll need 4oz canning jars… 8-to-12 of them along with canning lids and the screw-on rings that hold the lids on. You can’t be certain how much relish your peppers will produce, so have extra jars on hand.
You’ll need an 8oz block of cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese and a box of savory crackers such as Ritz, Club Crackers, Triscuit, or something hoity-toity (involving crackers, I’m a simple man). An hour or so before you plan to serve hors d’oeuvres, set the block of cream cheese on a serving plate large enough that you can later surround the cheese with a ring or two of crackers. Open a four-ounce jar of red pepper relish, and scoop its contents onto the cream cheese, distributing it evenly on the top. Some relish may drip down the sides of the cheese onto the plate.
When your guests arrive, surround the cream cheese and relish with crackers, add a table knife or a butter knife, and set the plate out with your other hors d’oeuvres. A guest can cut off a chunk of cream cheese with its associated patch of relish, and scrape it off the knife onto a cracker.
Chop the peppers up fine—each piece should be roughly the size of a thick piece of dry oatmeal. You can use a knife to do the chopping, but it goes a lot faster if you use a food processor. Mine held half the peppers. I used 2-second pulses totaling 20 seconds of run-time, scraped down the sides of the bowl, and then did 20 more seconds of 2-second pulses.
In a cooking pot, mix one tablespoon of salt through the ground peppers and let them sit for two hours. Then put a strainer over a pot or bowl, and dump the ground up peppers into the strainer. Let them sit for at least a half hour… more then three cups of liquid will drain out of them. (My mother-in-law tosses the liquid; I’m going to use it to make jelly… I’ll let you know how that works out.)
Return the ground up peppers to the cooking pot, add 2 cups of cider vinegar and 3 cups of sugar, and stir it together. Simmer the mixture uncovered for three hours, stirring periodically. For the first 2.5 hours, you don’t need to stir often, but in the last half hour, make sure the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot (also, heat your canning jars—see below). I start my relish on high heat for about seven minutes, and then set the temperature to low for the remainder of the cooking time.
With a half hour of cooking to go, make sure the canning jars are clean and put them in a large pot (a canning pot, if you have one) to heat on the stove. I used a 4-gallon stock pot with enough water that the tops of the jars would be two inches beneath the surface. I put two cloth napkins in the pot, and placed the canning jars bottoms down on the napkins… the water is going to boil, and the napkins protect the jars from jostling against the metal (you can use a dish towel instead of napkins). Also, put the canning lids in a sauce pot of water and set it on low heat; the water should get very hot without boiling. When the relish is ready, fill jars as follows: