It’s a quintessential part of growing up in Australia. When the first blush of Spring appears and the harvest of the market gardens begins, little fingers are set to work shelling peas.
It’s the perfect task for kids. Not too difficult, and their tiny digits are the ideal size for getting the pods open. Best of all it gets your little people involved in the cooking process, and connects them to fresh vegetables.
To shell a pea, pull on the stem down towards the base removing the string as you go. Then, slide your nail along the pod’s seam. The pod opens and you scrape the peas out into a bowl. You’ll get about five peas in each pod, which is not a whole lot. But this is the other great advantage of getting the kids to do the shelling: it’ll occupy them for at least half an hour right in the middle of pre-dinner lunacy!
But when the kids are shelling the peas, make sure they don’t throw away the pods. This is something I learned in Italy. Pea pods make a fantastic stock! They have all the earthy, garden-fresh flavour of the peas, even if they are too tough to eat. I usually take some ready-made chicken stock, add the pea pods then simmer this for half an hour to get the flavour going. You can then use this stock for soup, stews, or even as the base for a fresh seasonal risotto.
The peas we know and love come in about 20 varieties in Australia, depending on where they are grown. After all, pea cropping ranges from Sheffield in Tasmania to Gympie in Queensland, a vast distance that encompasses a significant variation in climate.
But let’s be honest for a moment, just between us. When it comes time to cook, most people will simply head straight to the freezer section at the supermarket. After all, a $12 kilo of whole peas will yield 200g of shelled peas, while a 500g bag can be picked up for less than $3. But here’s the thing. No matter how quickly peas are snap frozen, and regardless of how much care you take in defrosting them, no frozen pea will ever have their particular perfume, that fresh fragrance that you get from a fresh pea. This is the aroma of Spring, the essence of new season vegetables.
Your kids deserve to learn that smell, just like you did. They will know it and love it, just like you do!
Risi e bisi