Accounts of how the Sugarsnap Pea came into being are at variance. Seed companies tend to describe the pea as a late 20th century invention of Man. But others think the pea has a longer history. A member of Purdue University’s Department of Horticulture says that Snap Peas were around in the 19th Century and went by the name of ‘Butter Peas’. The Butter Pea, however, was not well received by the eating public and disappeared from the market. In 2007, Sotheby’s auctioned off a lovely Italian painting catalogued under the English title: Still Life with a Bowl of Sugar-Snap Peas and Pink Roses. The painting of the peas was done in the 17th century.
Some of the confusion may be due to the fact that when a botanist working for the Gallatin Seed Company of Twin Falls, Idaho, crossed a garden pea with a snow pea, his employers did not dwell on the past when they agressively marketed the result. When the Sugarsnap Pea made its public appearance in 1979, it was described as a NEW vegetable. “Heavens to Burpee,” began the write-up in People Magazine which an enterprising publicist somehow managed to get for the pea, “If that’s not a great pea!”
Even so, the Sugarsnap Pea did not come out of nowhere. It has a family history. And although, as in many family histories, fact and legend are not readily distinguishable, one thing is certain–the pea’s daddy was a rogue.
This novel bit of family lore won’t provide material for a cautionary tale, however. In plant society being called a rogue says nothing about character. Rogueishness reflects on the appearance. What it means in the case of the Sugarsnap is that its rogue parent was a fat, unshapely mutant of a garden pea with a thick skin.
Taking up his tweezers, Dr. Calvin Lamborn transferred some pollen from it to a snow pea—resulting in the snap pea which the Gallatin Seed Company gradually tweaked into the crisp, stringless variety known as the Sugarsnap.
What is also certain is that this variety of snap pea is quickly cooked, pleasant to eat if you like a vegetable with some crunch, and an agreeable companion to many different main courses.
Crisp Buttered Sugarsnap Peas (for 10 people)
- a pound of Sugarsnap Peas: This amount will be enough for 10 people in the context of a multi-course lunch or dinner
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda
- 1 or 2 Tablespoons of butter
- freshly ground salt and pepper
- a pot of boiling salted water for blanching the peas
- a colander
- a large bowl filled with water and ice cubes
- a cotton towel for drying off the peas before briefly heating them in the pan
- a flat-bottomed pan or a wok
1. Fill the large bowl with water and ice cubes. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon of baking soda. (The baking soda will cause the peas to keep their bright green color. It will do the same for other vegetables, such as green beans.) Blanch the peas for a minute.
2. Drain the peas quickly in the colander and put them in the large bowl filled with water and ice cubes. Leave them there until a few minutes before it is time to put them on plates.
3. Remove the peas to a cotton dish towl and pat them dry.
4. Melt the butter in the pan or wok. Add the peas and saute them a little, turning them with a spatula to coat them with the butter and to prevent them from browning. A couple of minutes is sufficient cooking and heating time.
5. Grind salt and pepper over the peas and arrange them on the plates with the Main Course.
A Note: Crisp Buttered Sugarsnap Peas accompanies Sonoran Roast Pork and Saute of Fresh Corn and Black Beans in the Lunch Menu: Southwestern Elegance.
© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011-2012