Thursday, 2 July 2015

Hermitcraft: Beach Peas

We're at the height of beach pea (Lathyrus japonicus) season here at the top of the planet, and that means I'm eating them by the fistful. They're common – in fact, ubiquitous – on my beach, and I gather them up on walks to toss into soups, sauces, and salads, or just shell and eat sur place.

Seeds that can survive five years in seawater have made beach peas native to virtually every shore north of the Equator, and a hearty willingness to grow elsewhere has seen them introduced to many southern ones as well. Their vines and fruit bear a marked resemblance to the domestic sort (Pisum sativum, late L. oleraceus), to which they are closely related. Their flowers too are very like those of garden pea, but striking lavender, blue, or violet. (Sweet pea [L. odoratus] is another close relative.) The pods are generally smaller and heavier than the garden variety, and the peas inside tiny by comparison. These don't reach harvestable size until overripe, and so have the waxy texture and slightly copper-penny taste of past-due garden peas. Not the tender sweetness we associate with their tame cousins, but entirely acceptable. They also have the notable advantage over most wild greens of coming on all summer long, so that the harvest window is months, rather than days.

As a wild food, beach peas catch their due portion of Chicken Little trolling, invoking in this case the spectre of lathyrism. Nervous readers may be assured that the chemical cause of that disease is meagre in beach peas, and leaches readily out in cooking; that you'd have to eat masses of shot-like peas over masses of time to present symptoms; that like scurvy, pellagra, beriberi, and other maladies of nutritional extremity, lathyrism cannot be contracted casually; and finally, that I have eaten these things all my life, both raw and cooked, in conventional quantities, and my butt still works. (See the Wikipedia entry linked above.) Always remember: any food can be proved "poisonous" by a determined crank. If you don't bring some reason to the table, you'll starve to death.

Any road. If you're around beach peas, toss some into something. They make for pleasant collecting, and welcome variety.

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