by Catherine Walthers
Spring greens, meet pea shoots.
People have enjoyed the tender tip ends of the garden pea plant for years, but growing pea shoots just for the greens and bagging or boxing them regularly for sale is relatively new in markets, both on and off-Island. They are a welcome seasonal addition: mild, sweet a little crunchy with the nutrition of dark leafy greens and surprising versatility in the kitchen.
“Everyone remembers opening up pea pods when they were a kid; you get that wonderful flavor in that pea shoot,” explains Lloyd Hart of Vineyard Organics, which grows pea shoots and microgreens in an Oak Bluffs greenhouse. “I like them for flavor, sweetness and nutrition. At Cronig’s, we sell more volume in pea shoots than any other item,” he said.
Last spring at Mermaid Farm in Chilmark, I first spied the bright green bags tucked in the fridge alongside
the yogurt, lassis, cheese, and milk. I quickly fell in love with the whimsical texture and sublime flavor, and
recipe after recipe tumbled out of my kitchen. Part of this might have been the sheer amount of greens stuffed into the half-pound bags.
Pea shoots are being grown in greenhouses, in fields, and hydroponically on the Vineyard.
At Mermaid Farm, Caitlin Jones sows pea seeds in 10-by-20-inch flats kept in unheated hoop houses just past the farm stand located on Middle Road. She plants nine flats at a time, up to three times a week so there is a continuous supply. In less than two weeks, the shoots reach an optimum three to four inches, sprouting tiny leaves and slender tender stems with that hint of pea flavor.
Jones calls this cold-weather vegetable a bit “temperamental” to grow, and enjoyed by birds as well as humans.“We tried them every single way,” she says. “We grew them as a cover crop and just used the tops. That worked well and tasted great, but was a lot of labor.” She now grows them throughout the year, though it takes longer in winter when it’s cold. “It takes three weeks when it should take 10 days,” she explains.
They can be grown at home, too. Look for pea shoot “kits” at Mermaid Farm, with seeds, growing trays, and soil.
Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown also experimented before settling on an heirloom variety called Dwarf Grey Sugar. The farm expects to do more volume of pea shoots for the 2016 season, says grower/owner Simon Athearn. He says they are growing this variety in the fields and cutting it at about 4 inches high. One of their experiments included growing them indoors in a clear water hydroponic system.
“We decided we liked the flavors and textures of the field-grown style,” says Athearn.
In the kitchen, pea shoots shine, as you would expect, in all types of salads, especially in those with grains, beans, chicken, pasta, or potatoes. The mild, sweet flavor makes it a match with everything from strawberries to feta. Stuff them into sandwiches or wraps. On this seafood-loving island, pea shoots serve as a good base for smoked bluefish, lobster, or salmon. Consider the season, too, and match with asparagus, eggs, and shiitake mushrooms.
“If you get kids to just try them, they can’t stop eating them,” adds Hart of Vineyard Organics. “They’ll get hooked in by the sweetness. My grandchildren just devour them.”
Where to find local pea shoots:
- The Farm Hub at Thimble Farm, available at the farm or through down-Island Cronig’s Market
- Mermaid Farm and Dairy, 9 Middle Road, Chilmark
- Morning Glory Farm, 120 Meshaket Road, off Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, Edgartown
- Vineyard Organics, sold at down-Island Cronig’s Market and the Scottish Bakehouse