M.F.K. Fisher, in An Alphabet for Gourmets, wrote in the chapter “P is for Peas” about her recollection of the best peas she ever ate in her life, plucked from her garden in Switzerland and whisked out of their shells and into a pot of boiling salted water for a matter of mere seconds before being consumed in the open air with her family. It is a beautiful piece, written in her unique sybaritic way that captures the pleasure of a moment that can only be experienced by someone who grows things to eat.
To be living in a time when almost anything in the world can be available at almost anytime – asparagus and strawberries in December, Szechuan peppercorns and ostrich meat in American groceries, Vietnamese pho shops next to Mexican taquerias- is amazing. The breadth of experiences afforded to me is unparalleled. And no mistake, I love to travel, to try new things, to see what’s being eaten all over the world and to live in a culinary melting pot like the Bay area. But it is also a lovely realization that there are specific eating experiences to be had in one’s own backyard that cannot be duplicated or surpassed. To realize and accept that some foods do not travel well, that peas lose their sweetness and turn starchy within hours of picking, is to relax into the moment in a singular way. In surrendering to that imperative, one says “I will bend and pick and feel the muscles in my back. I will stand in the sun and watch the sky change toward evening and meditatively shell peas into my hand and enjoy that rare sweetness in this moment.”
And if fortune smiles and you have a big enough pea patch, or your neighbor gardener hands you a sackful, you rush them into the kitchen like Ms. Fisher did, shell them and blanch them for a second, add a little salt and butter and eat them up. Don’t wait. The moment doesn’t last long.