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So pleased with a plate of sweet peas


I DIDN'T KNOW it at the time, but the other day as I spooned down fresh spring peas, I was behaving in an au courant way. I was eating within my "foodshed."

Modeled after a watershed, a foodshed is the area close to your home, some say within a 100-mile radius, that produces food. The idea is that by eating locally produced goods from this territory, you are encouraging more sustainable, ecologically sound practices and discouraging long-distance dining, that is, eating meals made with ingredients flown in from the other side of the globe.

All this in a plate of peas.

It was flavor, not philosophy, that drew me to the peas. They are one of the first crops of the season. When they are fresh, pulled right from the fields, they are magnificent. But like pets and small children, the farther they stray from home, the more trouble they get into.

These were shelled peas, English peas, according to the woman who sold them to me at the roadside stand, Oakley's Farm Market on U.S. 50 West near Hebron, a stand that borders well-kept fields.

They were nectar. The basket my wife and I bought on Friday was gone that night. So when we headed back to Baltimore on Sunday night, we stopped by the stand again to buy another basket for a family meal.

I had visions that shelling the peas - separating the round peas from their pods - would be a glorious family ritual. We would all gather around the table and tell stories and sing songs as we shelled. That is the way sweet corn is supposed to be shucked, at least in my imagination.

It has yet to happen with the corn and it did not happen the other night with the peas. Instead, before I could pull up a stool and gather the youngins (now in their 20s), my wife had zipped the peas from their pods, cooked them quickly in a little salted water and tossed them with a dab of butter. It was great eating. Even the youngins, a group notoriously suspicious of vegetables, chowed down.

These peas were remarkably different from the peas of my past. They were bright green, sweet and a joy to be with. The peas of my past were dull, canned, far-from-home and starchy. Moreover, the dull peas of yesteryear often held me hostage. When I was a kid, the mound of uneaten peas on my plate prevented me from getting dessert or being excused from the dinner table.

Kids, of course, have it easier nowadays than their parents did. The other night I tried to tell my sons that "back when I was a boy, we had to eat peas that tasted like paste." But my sons were not listening. Instead, they were too busy shoveling down these luscious local peas.

I also wanted to swap tales of pea-shooting prowess with the boys. But it struck me that this generation of twentysomethings has probably grown up without experiencing the joy of pelting a sibling with a well-aimed pea propelled by wind power from a 9-inch-long plastic tube.

Where, I wondered, have all the peashooters gone? Confiscated by irritated adults, no doubt, and now probably outlawed as dangerous toys.

Had I known that this pea-eating frenzy was ecologically fashionable, I would have mentioned it. But it wasn't until a few days later, when I went online and read two articles - one in a trendy design magazine, Azure, published in Toronto, and another in the San Francisco Chronicle - that I got up to speed on the concept of foodsheds.

I read that a woman in San Francisco has even drawn up a chart, based on the cycles of the moon, that spell out what local fare is to be eaten when. I was delighted to see that fresh spring peas were the approved foodshed fare for June.

I like the concept of eating locally, although I am not entirely comfortable referring to it as "foodshed dining." Somehow "eating my 'hood" sounds better to me.

Fresh Spring Pea Soup

Serves 6

4 pounds of fresh peas (shelled to yield 4 3/4 cups)

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

fresh ground white pepper to taste

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

12 small fresh mint leaves

Place shelled peas in a medium saucepan and cover with water by 1 inch. Add the salt, cover and cook until the peas are tender, about 20 minutes.

Puree the peas with an immersion blender or food processor, then press them through a fine-mesh sieve to remove their skins. Return the soup to the saucepan if necessary and gently reheat. If too thick for your liking, thin with water but do not add too much or you will dilute the flavor of the peas. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into 6 warmed shallow soup bowls. Garnish each bowl with a bit of butter, and place 2 mint leaves next to butter. Serve immediately.

-- From "Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin" by Susan Herrman Loomis (William Morrow, 2005, $24.95)

Per serving: 267 calories; 15 grams protein; 3 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 45 grams carbohydrate; 16 grams fiber; 8 milligrams cholesterol; 201 milligrams sodium

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