As so many sun-loving crops were waiting in summer's starting gates, peas took off.
The season for fresh peas, usually a spring crop, was extended by cool summer temperatures, local farmers say. Barring extreme heat that stunts peas, several types likely will populate local growers markets for several more weeks.
"This year, peas have been great," says Suzy Fry, co-owner of Fry Family Farm in Talent.
Fry and most Rogue Valley vegetable farmers favor edible-pod peas, such as snow and sugar-snap, selling them at markets for $4 to $5 per pound. In a nod to nostalgia, a few smaller growers sow English peas, also known as shelling peas.
"It just goes back to the good, old days," says Teri White, co-owner of Rogue River's Runnymede Farm, adding that she can count on certain customers to reminisce about childhood stints of shelling peas on the front porch.
"We snack on 'em a lot — straight out of the pod," says Rogue River farmer Anne Marie Ivan, whose Swallow Springs Farm collaborates with Runnymede in Evans Valley Community-Supported Agriculture.
Anyone who's freed a fresh green pea from its pod and eaten it on the spot can appreciate the flavor pay-off for a little prep work. Fresh peas are tender but still firm with a pleasantly fresh taste lost after freezing. Because peas quickly convert their natural sugar to starch, however, the vast majority of commercially grown peas are headed straight for grocers' freezer sections.
"A lot of people have never even tried them," says Ivan of fresh green peas. "They're harder to find."
No more difficult to grow than other peas, English varieties do have a much shorter window for picking before they lose sweetness, says Mary Alionis of Whistling Duck Farm. More forgiving in that regard, snow and snap peas also appeal to more customers, says Alionis, who plans to harvest as many as 1,000 pounds of edible-pod peas from her Applegate fields.
"The snap peas are definitely the preferred item," she says. "There is a real strong contingent of people who like shelling peas, but they're smaller."
The smaller customer base is just fine with White, who urges pea-seekers to arrive early at Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Markets — Tuesdays in Ashland, Thursdays in Medford — if they expect to claim some for shelling.
"They usually are the first pea to go," says White. "I think I could probably grow twice as much as I do and sell 'em all.
"I never have a problem selling 'em."
Although fresh, sweet peas require no cooking, they effortlessly complement numerous hot and cold dishes from a broad contingent of cuisines. Try these recipes, which also accommodate frozen peas if fresh are unavailable.
Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487, or e-mail email@example.com.