If they are to be eaten at luncheon time," insists the chef thought by many to be the greatest in all France, "the peas should be gathered in the garden no earlier than 11 o'clock." Not every compiler of recipes can permit himself to be quite so exacting as Chef Alexandre Dumaine (SI, June 8, '59), whose kitchen garden at the famed H√¥tel de la C√¥te d'Or in Saulieu is always green with fresh vegetables in summertime. But most of those who like good food, whether they boast gardens or not, will confess to a prejudice in favor of newly picked vegetables in season.
Thanks to 20th century science, seasons are now almost a thing of the past in cookery. Today's vegetables can lie for months or even years in the magical enchantment of a freezer and, like Sleeping Beauty, be awakened still seemingly young and alive as ever. The trencherman may be truly grateful for the occasional out-of-season wonder of "fresh" broccoli in January or golden corn on the cob in April, but if he has a real appreciation of the nuances of taste in fresh foods he will find a still greater delight in peas picked at ll to be eaten at noon.
One way to savor this wonder from season to season is, of course, to plant one's own garden. Another way, more practical for urbanites, is to haunt the big produce markets in the early hours of the morning. Virtually all American cities boast one or more such markets where, in barrows still warm with the scent of earth and sun, the city housewife can find foods which only a few hours before were growing in the soil. A mouth-watering sample is shown at the right in a photograph made by Jerry Cooke at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles.
Chicago's South Water Market is another urban oasis where every dawn sees new loads of garden sass roll in from the truck farms of Illinois and Wisconsin. In addition to three huge "terminal markets" (in downtown Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn) New York has many small markets, such as Balducci's in Greenwich Village, where apartment dwellers can find vegetables still dusty with the soil of Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut and upstate New York.
This then is the time to forget defrosting and return to old simplicities like shelling, peeling, scraping and washing. Fresh vegetables are a vital adjunct to any menu. Seasoned with the season itself and combined in the jardiniere described at left, they can even stand on their own as a summery one-dish meal.
¼ pound lean salt pork or bacon, diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound young carrots, scraped
12 small onions, peeled
2 teaspoons flour
2 pounds fresh green peas (weight before shelling), shelled
1 pound new potatoes, scraped
Small bunch fresh herbs
Sugar, salt, pepper
Brown salt pork or bacon in the butter in a heavy pan. Add carrots and onions and cook for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle flour into the pan and then add enough hot water to cover. Put lid on the pan and cook slowly 15 minutes. Next put in the peas, potatoes, herbs, a little sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for another 25 minutes. Serves 6.