This Friday we harvested sugar snap peas for the first time this season. The harvest list read: “pick all ready.” With the plants usually producing for about two weeks, these surprisingly sweet little green pods are a short-lived treat of the spring. Harvesting them can be tricky and their very thought can inspire backaches for those whose bodies remember last year’s crop- but boy are they worth it!
On the north side of the farm, there are six long beds of sugar snaps that are each, to my best estimate, close to one hundred yards long (though this estimate may be hyperbolized based on the six hours I spent in them on Friday). Each of these beds is about four feet wide with about eighteen inches between them- just enough for one body to work up and down the row. Each bed contains four lines of plants. When harvesting, we work two to a bed with each worker responsible for the two lines closest to them.
Not that long ago, this field, now teeming with green pods of various sizes, was blanketed with a snow of sweet-smelling white blossoms. The first of these blossoms have quickly turned into the round slightly curved pods we know as sugar snap peas. The first fruits develop close to the ground and work their way up the plant as it matures. When harvesting them, either kneeling or bending at the waist, one must gently pull back the plants to reveal the peas that are ready to pick. A little game of hide and seek. Be efficient, but careful not to pull the plant out of the ground and don’t miss any that are plump and ready.
Being able to differentiate between pods that have reached their peak and those who need to remain on the plant to fatten more is probably one of the more difficult tasks. Pick them too soon when they are thin and they won’t reach the potential of their full sweetness- wait too long and their outer pod turns an unappetizing yellow and slightly translucent with the pod sometimes splitting to reveal the wrinkly individual peas inside. When over ripe their taste is close to bitter and their texture, woody. Quality control of the utmost importance. The pod on the farthest right is the sweetest sugar snap pea you could possibly taste and what were were looking to harvest.
Along with deciphering the sugar snap peas’ ripeness are two other anomalies. They, too, are pea pods, but are pale in comparison to the sugar snaps in taste. One is a thin skinny pod that looks similar to a snow pea, but has nearly no flavor, and the other is a long straight pod that looks like a boat and feels like a biting into a bunch of tiny woody threads. Eating either of these is usually followed by spitting them onto the ground, especially after snacking on the real thing. We do not want these to make their way to the market or into a CSA share. Tasting the produce is important to understand the differences- a boon when you are waiting for lunch.
This Friday we methodically went through each of the six beds once, followed by a second run through. We came away with a half cooler- to guess, approximately sixty pounds. Many of the pods that were in the field on Friday were so close to being ready. The harvest for this coming week’s CSA should be bountiful.