Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Memory of Peas

Peas produce a very strong memory reflex in me. Fresh peas, that is. Proust managed to write seven volumes after being set off by a Madeleine cake dipped in sugary coffee*. I don’t think I can manage such a monumental task, but peas remind me of my childhood in an unusually powerful way.

One reason for this is that there are no peas where I live. People sometimes buy tinned or frozen peas for putting with particular dishes, but fresh peas are almost unknown. The pleasure of biting into a newly shelled pea, from a pod you’ve just picked from the plant, and feeling it burst in your mouth, releasing a moist green taste with a tang of something or other I’ve never quite identified, is difficult to convey to those who’ve never experienced it.

Here, peas are grown, but of very poor quality, and they are harvested whole for animal fodder, or not harvested at all, but what is not eaten is left to dry up and die in the field, to add nutrients to the soil. It’s quite common in May and June to pass yellow fields which on inspection turn out to be a carpet of dead peas.

This is not, of course, really about peas. It’s about memories. My father grew vegetables in the garden (and on his allotment) for many years. AT certain times of year we were self-sufficient in peas, runner beans, tomatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, radishes, lettuce, cabbage, beetroot, turnips and swedes. The beans were strung from a frame over which a kind of green plastic net was hung, and every spring (early spring, very cold) the process of turning over the whole garden with a fork, and ploughing in the contents of the compost heap, was carried out, mostly by my father, sometimes with the assistance of his more or less willing volunteers.

The Brussels sprouts were big plants, big enough to make a jungle for young boys to play in. The runner beans could be eaten fresh from the plant, crunching in a very satisfying manner in the mouth. And the peas were collected when the time was right and we sat around shelling them into a large bowl. The popping of pods and the taste and smell of the freshly shelled peas left a strong impression on my memory. So when I saw fresh peas in the market the other day, it was not so much the eating of peas that I was looking for, but the recovery of a memory of childhood.

It worked, up to a point. It was fun to shell them, and they were good to eat.

*I read the whole thing a few years ago, in a very good Spanish translation, the first two volumes by the poet Pedro Salinas. I even read part of the first volume in French. Whether it was worth it, I still couldn't say. Reflecting on my death bed, I don't think 'I can go in peace, I have read Proust', will be the main thought in my head. But you never know.


James Higham said...

Raw peas are nice as long as you can remove the pod yourself and split it.

CIngram said...

Yes, it's part of the process. You have to pick and shell them yourself or they don't taste the same.