Monday, March 12, 2007

A Tale of Two Peas..

Once upon a time there was a mad rush to eat peas. Not any old peas mind you. These were special peas in that they were picked early. Approximately three inches long these early pickings were known as 'Mangetout' in Europe and 'Sugar Snaps' in North America. So what was wrong with the standard pea? This rhyme sums it all up..

"I eat my peas with honey
I've done it all my life
It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on the knife! "

The British developed the art of mixing in peas with copious amounts of mashed potatoes. Youngsters added Tomato Ketchup for reasons only known to themselves. Gravy was often thickened to the point where it would hold peas together in molecular forms, while others would try to balance peas on top of whatever else was on the fork. From serving to eating peas were messy. But of all vegetables peas are the most universally accepted. Even the most ardent vegetable hater can usually manage peas.

There was a minor revolution starting in the 1970's and '80's. This was the era of 'Nouvelle Cuisine' where food had to be light and tickle the taste buds. It had to be visually appealing too. Paté transformed from the usual murky brownish colours to something akin to Neapolitan ice cream. Thick gravy was replaced by 'sauces', delicately applied with 'icing bags'. Tomato Ketchup was a no-no and the majority of vegetables were far too ugly to adorn a plate of this new style cooking.

All of course, except for the venerable pea. Not loose peas rolling around uncontrollably, landing on table cloths, the laps of diners, and the floor. This was a new pea, a young pea, so young that it could not easily be removed from it's pod, but still having the fresh, light taste of a good podded pea. Peas without all of the mess. Peas that could be arranged in pretty patterns.

Anyway, a supermarket chain in the UK was employing Africans in various villages to grow and pick these 'new' peas. Nouvelle Cuisine had popularized these things to the point where it was the 'in' thing to eat with almost any meal. The Africans were so pleased with getting paid for growing and picking these peas, that they made up a song such that every time Mr Tesco (a company representative actually, but they cared not) paid them a visit, they would perform it along with normal tribal dances.

Then one day, Mr Tesco arrived and told them that they would only get paid for peas of a certain length because equal sized peas looked better in the customer packaging. They still sang their song, not fully understanding the implications of demands being made. When it came time to pack the harvest most of the peas were not acceptable, and the people of the villages were hardly paid a 'bean' for their efforts. The words to the song were quickly rewritten, and instead of reflecting praise and adulation for Mr Tesco, the words gave some ideas as to what Mr Tesco could do with the peas, regardless of size.

At about the same time, diners were also getting tired of paying big bucks for tidbits of food and hellishly over-priced table wine. The honeymoon was finally over. The 'new' peas can still be seen in food stores, but only the more adventurous still eat them. Like fries they are more easily eaten by hand, being too thin for a fork to get a hold. They are positively disgusting when eaten with honey, and they do not mix well in mashed potatoes. Mangetout are the last vestige of an attempt at healthy eating that went seriously wrong way back in some African villages.

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