Bowls of peas defied the prairie dust bowl

I think one of the few chores I really enjoyed on our farm was when it was time to pick the green peas from our garden.

I probably checked the patch of green peas every day to see if they were ready. Nothing was more exciting than when I heard my mother’s “time to pick the peas.”

I would eat my fill as I picked the green pods, so much so that I could rarely eat my breakfast. The young, crisp peas were like morning dessert for me. Sweet, tenderly crunchy and refreshing, they were enough to counter the scorching Saskatchewan summer heat, even if it was just for 20 minutes or so.

Many years have passed but I still remember and relish that garden taste of our fresh peas in the 1930s.

We had our own little oasis in the Saskatchewan desert. During the Dirty Thirties, despite the dreaded drought, dust and the parched land around us, our hand-watered garden defied the ravages of nature. It gave us what we needed and what would also keep us fed during the long winter.

Even though the drought and dust storms came and went, our peas remained a constant — a large patch of green striking in appearance against the vast, arid brown land.

I would have my fill of the peas, pods and all, and then take buckets full back to the house.

Then I helped my mother shell them. There was one basket to throw in the empty pods, and another for the peas we’d taken out.

The shelled peas would be used in various dishes my mother prepared.

Those that were not, Mother would put in jars, cover them with hot water adding about one teaspoon of salt to a quart jar, then seal the jars leaving about one inch of air space at the top of each jar.

She would then place the jars in boiling water until the peas were cooked to can them. Once she removed the jars from the water, she let them sit until cooled and then took them to the cellar to be stored for winter.

There were also peas that Mother would leave to dry. These she should would keep for the winter to use in soups, stews and side dishes among other things, both vegetarian and with meat.

Even though these peas are packed full of nutrition, high in fibre and protein and contain a number of vitamins and antioxidants, I loved them because they tasted good. For my mother, these were an excellent source of protein on our cold winter days. For my dad, he said they were good for the soil.

Despite my parents being used to chickpeas and lentils as the norms in pulses in their native Syria, their adopted home on the Saskatchewan plains included peas as an important staple in our diets.

Saskatchewan continues to develop new varieties of peas. According to Statistics Canada, about 4.3 million total acres will be dedicated to field peas in our country, with an increase in acreage this year.

No doubt the pea in most of its varieties has a bright future in Saskatchewan.

Peas in any form — fresh, dried, frozen or canned — add colour and taste to any meal. Our years of farming in the dust bowl gave us our bowls of peas.

Quite some time has passed since I roamed through our garden pea patch repeating aloud the ditty that I still vividly remember: Give me not cookies with tea; only the tasty garden pea.

Pea soup

On the farm, my mother often made this soup from our batch of dried peas she had put away for winter.

  • 2 c. dried peas, soaked overnight and drained
  • 1/2 lb. beef with some fat, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 c. finely chopped celery with leaves
  • 1 c. finely chopped carrots
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp. dried savoury
  • 10 c. water

Place all ingredients in a saucepan then bring to boil. Cook over low heat for 2 1/2 hours or until peas, meat and carrots are well cooked, adding more water if necessary. Serves eight to 10.

Shrimp and pea salad

  • 2 c. cooked corn
  • 2 c. cooked and shelled shrimp
  • 1 c. shredded carrot
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked peas
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 tbsp. teriyaki sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper

Combine corn, shrimp, carrot and peas in a salad bowl and set aside.

Mix the remaining ingredients in a small bowl then pour over ingredients in the salad bowl. Toss and chill then toss again just before serving.

Serves six to eight.

Egg and pea casserole

This is my version of a delicious dish I ate in one of Tunisia’s village restaurants.

  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 c. rice, rinsed
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 c. fresh or frozen peas
  • 2 c. water in which are stirred 1 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, 1/2 tsp. cumin and 1/8 tsp. cayenne
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika

Preheat oven to 350 F. Heat oil in a frying pan, then sauté onion and garlic over medium heat for about 12 minutes or until onion begins to brown.

Transfer frying pan contents to a casserole then stir in rice, tomato paste, peas and mixed water. Cover and bake for one hour or until peas are done.

Remove and break eggs side by side over peas. Re-cover and bake for a further 10 minutes. Garnish with paprika and serve from casserole. Serves four.

Artichoke and pea stew

This stew is unique with its flavours of artichoke and peas that Mother made on rare occasions, when she was lucky to find artichokes.

  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 tbsp. finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • 1 hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 cans artichoke hearts with their water (14 oz, 39 8 ml each), quartered
  • 4 c. fresh or frozen peas
  • 4 tbsp. tomato paste, dissolved in 2 cups water
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. each oregano, black pepper and ground coriander seeds

In a saucepan, heat the oil then sauté onion over medium heat for eight minutes or until it begins to brown. Add garlic, coriander leaves and hot pepper, then stir-fry for further five minutes. Add the remaining ingredients then bring to a boil.

Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, then serve hot. Serves six to eight.

Easy-to-make paella

This is a version of the famous paella of Spain, but simpler to prepare.

  • 6 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. boneless breast of chicken, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 small hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 c. white rice, rinsed
  • 3 1/2 c. chicken broth
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 lb. shrimp, shelled except tails
  • 1/4-lb. shredded crabmeat
  • 1 can clams (5 oz, 142 g), rinsed and drained
  • 2 c. fresh or frozen peas

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Heat the oil in a frying pan then sauté chicken pieces over medium heat for eight minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, then set aside, reserving the oil.

In the same oil, sauté onions, garlic and hot pepper over medium heat for about 12 minutes or until onion begins to brown, then add rice and stir-fry for further one minute.

Stir in remaining ingredients and transfer to large casserole and cover. Bake for one hour, 15 minutes, then serve immediately. Serves six to eight.

Meat and peas stuffed pies – Ouzi

Visiting a friend in Damascus, I remember being served this dish, a specialty of that city. I enjoyed it the first time and I still remember its taste — buttery, rich and juicy.

  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 lb. ground lamb
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 4 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 c. fresh or frozen peas
  • 2 c. cooked white rice
  • 1/2 c. pine nuts or slivered almonds, toasted
  • 24 sheets phyllo dough, cut in half then covered with a tea towel or plastic wrap
  • 1/2 c. melted butter

Over medium heat, heat oil in a large frying pan then sauté meat and onions for 10 minutes. Add garlic, cilantro, salt, black pepper, cumin, allspice, cinnamon, and cayenne. Sauté for five minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl, then stir in peas, rice, and nuts. Divide into 12 portions and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F. For each pie, brush four half-sheets of phyllo dough with butter and layer them on top of each other. Place a portion of filling in the middle, then fold the phyllo dough over the filling from all sides to make a square pie. Repeat until all 12 pies are done.

Place pies in a greased baking pan and brush with butter. Bake for 25 minutes or until pies are golden brown. Serve hot. Makes 12 pies.

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