Army postings in North India would mean living in large colonial houses with a well maintained lawn and flower border at the end of the drive-way, a set of crumbling servant quarters behind the house, and a kitchen garden. 50 years ago, the colonial lifestyle was an integral part of Army Cantonments and I grew up surrounded by large trees with inviting branches and whispering leaves. I learnt the names of seasonal flowers ( phlox and snapdragon in winter, marigold in summer) and ate fresh veggies which the garden produced regularly. The challenge was in eating the same vegetable at every meal, in every possible way, till the next vegetable appeared. Bounteous beans, plump potatoes and pumpkins, crores of carrots, tons of tamarind….the best by far, was the fun of plucking peas from the creeper and wolfing them down whenever I would cross the patch of climbing pea creepers.
Frozen peas and dried peas have taken over my adult life for many a decade. The fresh peas of winter were a fleeting joy in Delhi, when my cousins and aunts would feed me this delectable specialty of Bengali cooking. Too lazy and too timid to try it out myself, it was a treat best devoured at other Bengali homes.
And then, I came to the hills…and then, peas came to my kitchen.
Fresh, green, tasty pea pods, grown in small Kumaon villages in the old fashioned way. A dear friend is developing an organic farm, and this year, their pea harvest has reached lucky me.
I have spent two quiet morning hours with this large pile of pea pods. They are “Uprari peas”… these were just sown on a quiet, remote hill slope and left to the devices of Nature. No watering, no fertilizing, no tending. The creepers handled the challenges of Nature, and now, after 3 months, my friend climbed up to that remote plot, collected the peas and brought them home.
What am I going to do with all these peas?!
The tender green pods will be made into pea soup for the evening. I have been using this recipe for ages, and it never fails to delight me (with its simplicity) and the soup drinkers ( with its taste).I add grated cheese as a quaint topping.
The pea pods which are full of fat caterpillars stuffed between fat peas, cannot enter the soup. I have to examine each pod carefully and keep the caterpillar filled pods for Hema’s hungry goats. I guess, for the goats, those fat caterpillars are like tasty croutons in a soup.
The peas are being eaten raw during the shelling process. I have made blocks of the pea stuffing for puris and parathas. We are eating peas in every possible dish and I still have kilos to freeze using a simple and excellent method.
I have also been eating delicious dried peas from Spiti, gifted to me on that memorable trip last winter.
These peas have a flavour to die for, and every time they are prepared for dinner, I feel I am back in this little warm room, surrounded by those affectionate, genuine people of Kibber.
As the years go by in Ranikhet…as the peas continue to enchant me every spring….as my repertoire of pea delicacies grows…I know that whenever ( and wherever) I will hold a tender green pea-pod in my hand, the Kumaon hills will envelop me with memories of these good times.