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Mint + Peas Please!



Mint and peas, mushy peas, steamed peas — timeless English style favourites that mark the culinary transition from spring to summer.


Peas are traditionally spring, or cool weather crops, but in my garden they are ever-present from March through the first frosts of late October. They move garden locations from full spring sun, to part summer sun, back to full sun again in the fall.


In many parts of North America, peas can be planted, strategically over and over again throughout the growing season. This is called succession planting, and it’s a damn fine idea. The trick is to mimic spring conditions as much as you can, by adjusting sunlight hours, soil temperature, etc, to suit the preferences of peas (and other cool weather crops).


I grew up hating peas — those badly frozen tough-skinned icky green orbs that tasted like trees. To this day, I am partial to homegrown or farmers market peas in the pod. In fairness, there are now certain brands of frozen baby peas that are beautifully sweet and nicely textured, but the canned goods, no thank you!


Organic English peas ready for shelling

The good news is that, peas are super easy to grow, and they are so easy to prepare (and preserve) in thousands of ways. Peas have been showing up in lunches and on dinner plates nearly every day for the past few weeks. My family can’t get enough of them. If I place a bowl of sugar snap peas in the refrigerator, the level of peas in the bowl goes down each and every time the door gets opened. We can't help ourselves.


Then of course there is exotic mint. After a slow spring start, all varieties of mint have gone bonkers in the garden. It can get out of hand of course, but I plant mine in deep but bottomless pots, in and among other herbs, which contains the notorious wanderers, for the most part.


Planting mint in deep bottomless pots set into the soil, helps keep stems from touching the soil and taking root

We grow English, Kentucky, Moroccan, strawberry, pineapple, basil, orange, chocolate, and spearmint, all in a relatively small space in the herb spiral, or in small stone pots. Two or three times each season, I cut the mint back and hang single or mixed varieties to dry for use as tea, or in baking throughout the year.


Bundles of mint ready to hang dry for use in herbal teas and cooking

If you are curious about pea varieties and how to grow them, check out my March article ‘Sweet Peas’.


Today, I thought I would invite you into my garden and my kitchen, to see what we get up to with peas, and to inspire you to plant some, or plant more.


I plant two types of peas primarily — sugar snaps, which can be enjoyed whole at all stages of development, pod and all, until they pass the ripe stage and become woody and starchy. We also love shelling type peas, which produce inedible (typically) pods of fat, sweet green peas.


To be honest, up until a certain point, many shelling peas can be eaten whole also, you just have to monitor them as they grow, tasting every few days to see if the pod is still tender and tasty. I find that once my shelling peas grow to about 50% of their full size, the pods start toughening up. Every variety is different though, so experiment with yours.


Alderman shelling peas at about 2/3 of their ready-to-pick size

If you want your children to love gardening and growing food, plant peas, and plant them two or three times throughout the season. I start mine in small four-inch pots; two, three, even four seeds to a pot, so they can be popped out and planted at the base of the trellis or string — easy peasy!


Remember though, the golden rule of encouraging children to harvest peas, beans, tomatoes and other danglers — that they must use both of their tiny hands to do so. Otherwise, it is a certainty that the entire pea plant comes away with that one sugar snap pea little Johnny tries to pull off of the plant with one hand, without holding the stem in place with the other. My sweet little kidlets did that with flowers too, when they were learning the ropes.


Planting three or four seeds per pot makes transplanting seedlings quick and easy

We eat sugar snap peas like candy, including them with carrot and cucumber sticks in lunches with hummus. We slice them on the diagonal into salads, stir fries, and soups. We whizz them into fresh juices and smoothies.


Peas are nature’s candy. You can tell when they are on the verge of woodiness when the birds get at them. They know exactly when the fat little pods are at their most sweet and nutritious.


In my garden, the towhees are the big time pea stealers. They sit patiently, pecking away at the pod, until they have unzipped it enough to pull out the peas. It’s delightful to witness, the puffy and wobbly babies in particular, as they work away for their supper. I could never shoo them off. Certainly, they are as grateful for the peas as I am for their company.


Alderman peas climbing beyond eight-foot fence

The Alderman shelling peas outgrew the eight-foot high cedar fence very quickly, while I wasn't looking. I was too slow with the pinching, which I should have done when they reached the top, so now I am compensating with individual bamboo pole extension ladders. I’ll do better next year.


I grew a tiny Magnolia branch "pea tree" for my mother-in-law Maria. She can’t get around in her yard-level garden anymore, so we created a lovely sundeck garden for her, with rolling planters full of trellised tomatoes and cucumbers. There wasn’t room for a traditional wall of peas, so we improvised in a very small way. A mini table-top pea tree planted with Little Crunch snap peas bred for containers, produces sweet and crunchy peas for one, for weeks on end as long as the peas are picked regularly. The pea tree is adorable, and it makes her happy.


Little Crunch Snap Pea Tree uses magnolia tree trimmings for branches

I am happy to share some of my favourite quick and easy recipes using fresh home-grown peas and lovely mint. I finish with the cocktail of childhood memories — the one my parents drank all summer long, while the English mint slowly overtook the garden. The English mint I grow now, is a descendent of that very same mint that my father gave me when my husband and I bought our first home over 25 years ago.


Enjoy!


Halibut with minted peas, new potatoes with mint, and grilled peaches

Minted Peas

Serves 4


Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh shelled peas

  • 1/2 cup mint leaves, loosely packed and chopped or julienned, plus more small leaves for garnish

  • juice of 1/2 lemon, or 1/4 cup remnant good quality white wine

  • sea salt

  • good quality olive oil

for the entire dinner as shown:

  • 20 small new potatoes

  • 2 ripe apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines or pears

  • 2T honey

  • 2T lemon juice

  • several grinds fresh pepper

  • several sprigs fresh mint

  • 2 6-oz halibut pieces of uniform thickness, skinned and boned

  • olive oil for grill

Method

Pre-heat oven to 350F


  • Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat

  • Cut washed fruit in half and remove pits or seeds

  • Heat honey, lemon juice and pepper in the microwave for 15 seconds to thin, then brush it over the cut fruit. Reserve surplus liquid

  • Brush grill with olive oil, and place fruit cut side down for a few minutes until grill marks appear. Turn fruit and grill the other side

  • Remove to plate and drizzle with reserved liquid. Set aside

  • This step can be done in advance, as grilled fruit is best enjoyed at room temperature

  • In a saute pan or shallow saucepan, bring 1 cup or so of water to a boil. Add peas and mint, and simmer for a few minutes until the peas are tender

  • Strain the peas and mint, and set aside to keep warm, in a covered bowl, reserving the water for the potatoes

  • Meanwhile, set the whole potatoes to boil in a medium saucepan with lid, adding the minty pea water to the cooking water

  • Once the potatoes come to a boil, turn down to a gently simmer (so they don’t split) until fork tender. Strain and set aside, covered

  • Meanwhile, in an oven-proof saute pan, sear the halibut pieces in a tablespoon of olive oil, over medium heat, until the bottom turns golden and the lower half-inch or so is opaque

  • Place saute pan in the oven to cook the halibut just-through — approximately 5 minutes, but time depends on thickness. Remove when done, and keep warm

  • Stir several splashes of olive oil through warm peas, stir in lemon juice (or white wine), sprinkle with sea salt to taste. Keep warm

  • Cut potatoes in half and toss with olive oil, sea salt

  • Place halibut pieces onto warm plates, top with peas and mint, garnish potato halves with small mint leaves, add grilled fruit halves


Mushy peas for kids of all ages, served hot, warm or cold

Mushy Minted Peas

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh shelled peas

  • 1/2 cup mint leaves, loosely packed

  • sea salt

  • good quality olive oil

  • lemon zest for garnish

Method

  • In a saute pan or shallow saucepan, bring 1 cup or so of water to a boil. Add peas and mint, and simmer for a few minutes until the peas are tender

  • Strain the peas and mint, then place them in a food processor or blender with a pulsing chop function

  • Pulse until chunky, the add a few tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt.

  • Process minimally only until slightly creamy, but still chunky

  • Place in a serving dish and garnish with lemon zest

  • Serve warm or cold as a dip for vegetables, or as a side dish for meat or fish. In many parts of England, mushy peas are served alongside traditional fish and chips. My husband loves ‘double-dipping’ sugar snap peas into mushy peas, along with carrot and cucumber sticks

Arugula and snap pea salad with mint and berries

Pea, Arugula & Mint Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 cup per person mixed arugula and their flowers (I use wild rocket and Astro arugula from our garden)

  • 3 plump sugar snap peas per person, cut on the diagonal

  • small handful of blueberries, per person

  • strawberries for garnish (I use tiny alpine red and yellow strawberries from our garden)

  • small handful of small mint leaves, per person

  • olive oil

  • white balsamic or white wine vinegar

  • Dijon mustard

  • sea salt and pepper

Method

  • Make a vinaigrette using 2 parts olive oil to one part vinegar, plus Dijon, to taste

  • Very finely chiffonade (thinly slice) the mint

  • Toss arugula and mint with dressing and divide among serving plates

  • Sprinkle sliced snap peas over-top, without tossing

  • Repeat with strawberries and flowers

  • Season lightly with salt and pepper, and serve immediately


Pimm's No. 1 Cup cocktail with mint, cucumber and lavender

Pimm’s Minted Cocktail

Ingredients

  • 6-8” stem of mint per person

  • strip of English cucumber peel, per person

  • 2 ounces Pimm’s No. 1 Cup (herbal, gin-based liquor), per person

  • ginger soda, lemon soda, or plain carbonated soda water

  • lavender sprig, per person, optional

  • ice cubes

Method

  • Fill glass 1/3 full with ice

  • Add liquor

  • Score back of cucumber peel with a fork, to release flavour, then place in glass

  • Roll mint sprig gently between palms to release flavour, then place in glass

  • Top up with preferred soda, garnish with lavender if using, and serve


That's all for now. Until next week then, happy gardening! To learn about urban permaculture and permaculture principles, watch Modern Farmer Magazine's Urban Permaculture video series in which publisher Frank Giustra and I introduce the basics. If you haven't subscribed to Modern Farmer's Million Gardens Movement newsletter, please do.

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