Mendel's Peas: From Garden to Table
When I surveyed the space in my garden this year, I wondered if there might be enough room for peas. Having never grown them before, I wasn’t sure which variety to buy. There must have been 25 different types of pea seeds for sale at our local Home Depot. Searching online only made matters worse; the list expanded to 45. Did I want “Dark Seeded Early Perfection” or “Green Arrow?” Or should I choose “Little Marvels” or “Summer Love Mix?” The names started sounding like so many beat poetry titles.
Then I had to choose between organic and traditional seeds. And what about plant height and seed spacing? How many plants could I fit into 3 square feet of garden? I finally settled on the Maestro variety (I liked the allusion to music), and got the seeds into the ground in mid-May. Instead of buying a factory-made trellis, my daughter helped me erect one using sticks we gathered from the surrounding woods.
As I waited for sprouts to emerge, I noticed that someone or something was cutting the string on the trellis. Thinking it was a rodent, I sprinkled cayenne pepper on the leaves and on the ground. That stopped the bad rodent behavior, but I then noticed a new phenomenon. Small, black ants were carrying the specks of cayenne away, one by one. Who knew that ants like cayenne pepper?
Too bad I didn’t have Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian friar and the father of genetics, around to explain the subtleties of pea gardening. He must have encountered at least some of the same challenges of gardening that I did. I’d like to think my peas would go into the perfect dish to serve at Mendel’s birthday party (July 20). In fact, I’m going to name this recipe after him.
Back in the garden, I had harvested about 30 pods, enough for one serving. Now what? I would need more than that to make Mendel Macaroni Salad. So, I decided to supplement with some store bought organic petite peas.
This wasn’t your mother’s macaroni salad. I based my recipe on The Cozy Apron version. It would be easy and a little bit different. I had everything on hand except the pancetta, so I did what most cooks do, I substituted.
Mendel Macaroni Salad with Lemon Thyme Dressing
12 oz macaroni pasta, cooked and cooled
1cup frozen petite peas, thawed (I mixed in the fresh peas from my garden.)
4 oz diced and crisped pancetta (I substituted with a mix of thick sliced bacon and deli ham.)
• Lemon-Thyme Dressing (recipe below)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, for garnish (I used thyme from my box garden.)
-Add the cooked and cooled macaroni to a large bowl, and add in the thawed petite peas and the diced, crisped pancetta; if serving immediately, toss with the Lemon-Thyme Dressing, and garnish with the thyme leaves; if making ahead, prepare all components and keep them separate, then toss the dressing with the pasta/peas/pancetta when ready to serve, to keep the pasta salad moist and fresh; keep cold.
Lemon-Thyme Dressing ingredients:
¾ cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 ½ tablespoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons sugar (I used a bit less, 1 tbsp., and it tasted fine.)
1 ½ teaspoons salt (I reduced the salt to 1 tsp. since I added bacon & ham.)
1 teaspoon whole grain Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
-Add all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor. (I used an immersion blender, which made it possible to mix the dressing in a large glass measuring cup. Anything to reduce the amount of dishes to wash!) Process the mixture until thick and completely creamy; store in the fridge until you’re ready to serve the salad, at which point you can toss the dressing with the pasta. Garnish with sprigs of fresh thyme.
If you’re looking for more “pea-tastic” summer recipes, try these links. (Some of them are easy peasy.)
The Smitten Kitchen (Summer Pea and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad)
MyRecipes.com (Sweet Pea Risotto with Corn Broth)
Live Simply (Spring Quinoa with Peas and Corn)
Vegetarian Times (Curried Potatoes with Cauliflower and Peas)
If you’re interested in reading more about Gregor Mendel, try these resources.
Gregor Mendel: the friar who grew peas (Special Collections)
Gregor Mendel: planting the seeds of genetics (Special Collections)
Solitude of a Humble Genius: Gregor Johann Mendel – Volume One, Formative Years (Online)
The Monk in the Garden: the lost and found genius of Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics
Gregor Johann Mendel (Image of Mendel’s statue at Villanova University)
Article by Luisa Cywinski, editorial coordinator for the Communication & Service Promotion team and leader of the Access Services team.
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