Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pea Salad Days

I'll just bet food snobs don't eat pea salad. To tell the truth, I'm not exactly sure who does, because nobody really eats canned peas, at least not when anyone is looking. But for those who adore the appeal of food as art -- impeccably fresh ingredients, precariously stacked and served in oh-so-trendy stark white rimmed bowls or square plates -- pea salad probably does not even exist.

I suppose it would be possible to fancy it up a bit -- harvest and shell fresh heirloom peas, thoughtfully select complementary layers of flavor, whip up a batch of homemade mayonnaise and gently fold it all together. Food snobs could then proudly proclaim themselves creators of a gourmet pea delight. I guess I would give their version a try, because I am not a food snob, but pea salad purists would say, "Phooey!" to this pseudo pea salad.

You may be able to dress it up, but you still don't take it anywhere. Real pea salad is not rare or elegant, except perhaps in its sublime simplicity, so it lacks the appeal required of twenty-first century restaurant menus. Back in the day, as my son would say, there may have been tearooms serving pea salad to ladies lunching in hats and gloves. And today, in some circles, pea salad probably still finds its way to pot-luck suppers or funeral meals, but in my mind, pea salad will always be simple, unaffected kitchen table food.

The definitive recipe for pea salad does not exist, except in the minds of seasoned cooks. Rather, it is a construct of ingredients pulled from the pantry shelf and evocative of a simpler time when moms and grandmas made it for lunch or supper. Vintage community cookbooks, published by mid-twentieth century churches and civic groups, are still around to tell the true story of foods like pea salad . . . in the beginning, take a can LeSueur peas. What happens beyond that rests with the creator, because the simple truth is there is no cooking involved!

1 can LeSueur peas
2 tbsp. sweet pickle relish
2/3 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/3 c. Hellman's mayonnaise

Place ingredients in a bowl and stir gently to combine. Serve immediately or refrigerate to let the flavors blend a little.

So give me a can of LeSueur peas, a warm summer day, and I'm in pea salad heaven. I have my mother to thank for my love of pea salad -- and I also thank my mother-in-law for giving me someone who shares that same love. Guilty pleasure, comfort food or nostalgia -- you decide.

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