It’s the last few days of summer, which means that it’s time to consume as much bright green as quickly as possible before everything starts turning brownish-orange. I always know that the weather is getting greener and warmer when I start seeing sugarsnaps and pea-shoots in the markets and on menus–it’s one of my most favorite signs that spring is here and summer is coming.
I never eat peas without thinking of E.B. White and his concern for their future in the essay “Coon Tree.” When he wrote the essay in 1956, White had just been to a conference for the American Society of Industrial Designers and had heard a speaker who said that in the near future, we would “push a button and peas would appear on a paper plate.” To White, this seemed a bleak fate. “I’m not much of an eater,” he says, (which is untrue), “but I get a certain nourishment out of a seed catalogue on a winter’s evening, and I like to help stretch the hen wire along the rows of young peas on a fine morning in June, and I feel better if I set around and help with the shelling of peas in July. This is part of the pageantry of peas, if you happen to like peas.”
White, who was himself a farmer, was amazingly ahead of his time in terms of his thinking on ethical and sustainable farming practices, and ideas on food traceability. In elementary school, Charlotte’s Web changed the way that I thought about the meat that I ate, and post-college “One Man’s Meat” pushed that thinking even further. Hardly a day goes by that he doesn’t cross my mind in some way or another. This clean and bright soup is my ode to E.B. and my farewell to this summer, which was busy and stressful and sticky and as always always always, over much too fast.
“Summertime, oh summertime, pattern of life indelible, the fade proof lake, the woods unshatterable, the pasture with the sweet fern and the juniper forever and ever, summer without end.”
-E.B. White, “Once More to the Lake”
E.B. White “Pageantry of Peas” Soup
Makes about 1 Quart
1 Tbs unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 Tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups chicken stock
½ cup (8 oz) snow peas
2 ½ cups (24 oz) shelled sweet peas (frozen will work just fine)
¼ cup pea shoots (if available, if not not just leave them out)
4 mint leaves
4 dill sprigs
juice and zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Crème fraiche or good parmesan cheese for topping (optional)
Get a medium stockpot of salted water boiling. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat, add diced onion and garlic and cook until onions are softened but not browned. Add chicken stock and simmer. Once your pot of water is boiling, add your snow peas and boil until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add shelled sweet peas to the water and boil until heated through, about 1 minute. Strain peas and add them to a blender (a food processor really doesn’t work well for this, I tried and it was a mess). Add your chicken stock/onion mixture to the blender, along with your mint leaves, dill, pea shoots (if you have them), lemon zest, lemon juice and a bit of salt and pepper (don’t overdo it, you can adjust after blending). Blend until very smooth and adjust salt and pepper to your liking. If you want an extra-smooth soup, strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve. I ate this soup both hot and cold and it was great both ways, especially topped with some crème fraiche or good, salty parmesan.