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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sugar Sugar

My white-haired great Aunt Rhea used to cook mouthwatering meatloaf in a huge blue enamel canning pot on top of her old electric stove. Whenever we visited her, it was her staple mid-day dinner. Between conversations and endless glasses of lemonade, she'd slip into the kitchen to baste the meat with the drippings before covering the top with a thin layer of sweet bottled  ketchup. I've never forgotten her meatloaves or  the gigantic fresh English garden peas she sauteed in butter to accompany them. The peas were the size of my little thumb. Big, bright, buttery, and beautiful. When I ate them them as a kid,  they popped in my mouth and tasted like sweet green candy. Pea Pop Rocks.

Lately, I've been on the prowl for fresh peas at the farmers' market. I adore fresh English peas, but they're hard to find. Thankfully, other peas fill the void.

I stopped by the market early one morning to pick up some fruit to nibble on during my very short drive to work. Parked on the edge of the market lot, the blue Paw Paw Plantation truck sat quietly alongside the other vendors. Without apologies, the farmstand table was unadorned.  No tablecloths, prices, or signs. No frills.

The table was lined with a few baskets of early peas.  With curly flat pods hiding tiny peas under thin bumpy flesh, I thought they were snow peas. "They're sugar snap peas.", Roland MacIntosh  said.  "Really? They look like  snow peas?", I  countered.  "They're Sugar Ann sugar snap peas. Picked early.", he whispered.

They were gorgeous.

Whacked snap peas.
Oh sure, I could have sauteed them in butter with salt, pepper, and  a splash of fresh lemon juice. Pure. Clean. Simple. Fresh.

I didn't.


After blanching, draining, and patting them dry, I blistered the snap peas in a smoking hot cast iron skillet for 45 seconds before pulling the skillet from the heat and tossing the peas with fiery Sriracha butter (3 tablespoons softened unsalted butter, 1 heaping tablespoon Sriracha sauce, and a scant 1 teaspoon honey).
The molten skillet erupted, spiiting and spattering flecks of red butter all over the kitchen.  It made me smile.  Food fireworks. Fabulous.

When the show died down, I showered the sugar snap peas with black sesame seeds before tumbling them alongside sour orange grilled chicken breasts and quartered Marion County vine-ripened tomatoes

The peas were intense. Crisp, clean, hot, and sweet, they snapped through the lip burning sticky butter, squirting tiny fresh peas everywhere.  While the sesame seeds added crunchy nuttiness, the gushingly ripe tomatoes doused the flaming heat, exploding like juicy wet tomato-infused water bombs.


Aunt Rhea was a little crazy, too.


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