To this day, fresh peas have the power to evoke one of my most cherished childhood memories.
At least a month of each of my grammer school-aged summers was spent at "Grandma's Biggie House". That is what I named the place when I was a very small child. It is easy to see why, since it consisted of two, three-story buildings. My aunt and grandmother operated a faith based charitable retirement home called El Nathan Home in a little rural town in southeast Missouri. The home was established in the years before there was Medicare or Medicaid or SSI or Section 8 or any other government aide for the destitute elderly. If you had the great misfortune of having no family to support you, and no private retirement income, your only hope was that some non-profit religious or fraternal organization would take you in.
Almost all of the women at El Nathan had been missionaries or teachers or nurses. They had taken care of people all their lives, but had noone to take care of them.
Everyone living at El Nathan pitched in according to their abilities. Nobody could dust with the precision of Miss Julia Post. Miss Mildred Horsey washed all the dishes. Miss Irene Hill helped with the laundry. Miss Harriett Prentiss set & cleared the tables. And my great-grandmother, Minnie James (who also lived there) prepped vegetables. She is the one who taught me to shell peas. I have a vivid mental picture of her sitting on the porch, using her aproned lap like a shallow bowl as her hands flew through the pods of early peas.
See, you knew I'd get back around to the subject eventually, didn't you?
We ate those peas prepared in a country-American style. Instead of garlic (which was unheard of in rural 1950's Missouri) my grandmother used chives. Instead of proscuitto it was hickory cured bacon. Butter or lard replaced olive oil which was also unheard of. And parsley would have been considered to be an unnecessary affection.
But for all those differences, this dish of Marcella's isn't that far removed, is it?
After the garlic is cooked in the oil to a golden brown the diced proscuitto is added. Then the peas (and if using fresh, some of the most tender of the pea pods) are added. After turning over in the oil to coat, parsley and pepper are added along with a little water. The heat is turned down to medium and the pan is covered. Cooking time for thawed peas is about 5 minutes. For fresh peas and their pods it may be 15 to 30 minutes depending on their original tenderness.
I'm happy to have drawn this recipe in the rotation. And I thank you for indulging my little trip down memory lane as I wrote my report.