For a short time in my childhood, my family lived in the forest, on the edge of a very large river in northern-ish Ontario. Our home was literally a dream house built by the previous owners. It was a large log house with huge, plate glass windows wrapping their way around the entire home. I was the luckiest of all since my corner bedroom included breathtaking views of both the woods and the river. Enchanting really is the best word to describe how I felt about our home. Even at such a young age I was certain I would never live in such an incredible house again.
The large property of our log home included a three car garage, a guest house, and a boat house. I don’t remember our one car ever being parked in the garage. My parents probably figured that with small children it was too long of a hike to get to the car, especially during the cold, snowy winters. No guest ever stayed in the guest house in our time, but my sister loved to set her Nancy Drew mysteries in the pretty little building filled with strange junk left by the last owners. Only the boat house, which came ready-filled with a couple canoes and was conveniently placed at the land’s end of the dock, was well-used by my father who was, and still is, an avid fisherman. The beach followed along the water’s edge of our property and my father actually raked it every year when the seaweed began to grow. Sandy and smooth, our beach was pleasing for wading in and splashing around.
Our home was located in the middle of nowhere and I suspect my parents got the house for a basement price. Looking back I realize those were lean times for my parents but for the type of small child I was, that only made it more magical. Since finances were tight, the sacrifice made to live in a breath-taking, isolated location, we lived mostly off fish and unimaginable amounts of wild blueberries that our family would pick during each year’s berry season that lasts up to three months. Blueberry pancakes, blueberry pies, blueberry jam, blueberry muffins, blueberry cobbler-I’m pretty sure I’m missing a few variations! We barely ate any other fruit. It’s hard for me to imagine it now but I didn’t actually like blueberries all that much. I very much enjoyed the picking escapades, however, many of which involved riding off in the boat, and I always loved the idea of eating what we gathered ourselves.
My parents also grew a large vegetable garden. Although I vividly remember the location of the site of the garden, I have only two conscious memories of its existence. One memory is the discovery of a carrot that had mistakenly been left in the ground over winter. Wow! This was the sweetest carrot I have ever tasted. It blew my little mind. My other recollection, even fonder, is of the row of shelling peas planted along the outside edge of the garden. I have memories of searching and then searching again, always trying to find just one more ripe pod. I know that my love for shelling peas, a love that belies how good they actually taste, originates with that early thrill of picking peas right off the plant: pulling the string back on a pod, running a fingernail down the center, anticipating how good the haul might be and how sweet the peas inside would taste, and then slowly picking out each pea, one by one, and placing them into my mouth, to be eaten slowly. There was absolutely no other culinary or garden experience in my early years that ever came close.
When I began my own garden last autumn, I planted Mammoth Melting and Alderman Tall Telephone, six to eight foot varieties, along our yard fence. I was attempting to maximize both space and the winter sun. Since this area would receive less sunshine than any other part of the garden over the winter season, I figured that tall plants would have a much greater chance of success than short vines that wouldn’t have the ability to make the stretch up to sunnier heights. And then, thinking back on my own childhood love affair with shelling peas, I decided I should plant a shorter 3 foot variety at the edge of our garden where my son could easily pull off his own peas. I planted the seeds and told him these peas were his. He wasn’t yet two and I don’t think he actually knew what peas were. He showed interest but not more than in the other plants in the garden. Still, I kept on stressing that these were his peas each time we watered the garden together and as time went by he became slightly more involved in the watering of this little area. As the vines grew taller a switch went off and my son grew attached to his patch. Or, maybe it was just the trellis he was fascinated with. Truthfully, I suspect it was just the trellis that drew him in. But that’s okay. I really wanted him to become more engaged with the garden and it had worked. I can’t recall how many times I got after him to stop pulling on the trellis. I even had to take away his daily watering privileges a couple times in an attempt to stop him from tearing out both trellis and roots of the peas (this worked for the most part but was not a fool proof solution). Perhaps this wasn’t the engagement I had been wishing for!
Then the peas began to form flowers and my little boy loved to bend down and sniff them in that exaggerated, animated toddler way of loudly inhaling and exhaling through the nose. Soon after the first flowers bloomed, pods began to form. Not long after, the day arrived that I removed the first fully ripe (well, almost ripe…I couldn’t wait any longer!) pod and placed it in his little, plump hand. I showed him how to open the pod, I removed the first pea for him and fed it into his mouth. Instantly my son was smitten. He was delighted. He was mesmerized. The knowledge that these peas were his took on meaning. And now that I think of it, he never pulled on the trellis again-he was no longer interested in placing his peas at risk. “Peas” he walks around the house saying, countless times each day. “Peas” he asks first thing in the morning. “Peas” he asks when he sits down to dinner. “Peas” he says after his nap. He picks and over-picks his peas while we’re out in the yard. I encourage him to leave the unripe peas on the vines for a day or two more, but they are his peas so he is free to pull them off if he likes. On my lucky days, he has even shared a pod or two with me. These peas, Sabre, are for sure my favorite among the varieties we planted. They are flavorful, the pods are fully packed and the plants, which I did inoculate, continue to be densely covered in flowers. The Tall Telephone are also a shelling pea which means I’ve only tried a handful of them: my son wants to eat as many shelling peas as our garden can give him. My husband and I have been reduced to eating only the overly adult-like seeming edible-pod Mammoth Melting. They are great steamed, sautéed, and in salads. However, as tasty and pretty as they are, I always feel a tad disappointed while harvesting. They don’t possess any of the great magic of a shelling pea. When I pick a shelling pea pod, I can barely understand how it is that the delight I receive, even though I am not the one destined to eat it, has not diminished since I was a child. There are so few adult moments in life that turn out to be as exhilarating as the memories recalled from childhood. I am grateful that I have the space in my garden for these little wonders. I am happier still to see my son gain his own similar delight from his simple little peas.
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