Mary's Veggie Garden

July 20, 2015

Sugar Snap Peas: Rest In Peace

Filed under: Peas,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 10:11 am
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This is not a lament for the peas in my garden; it is a lament for the variety. Seed producers seem to be loosing the ability to produce true Sugar Snap Pea seed.

These are not Sugar Snap Peas, even though the seed came from a Sugar Snap seed packet.

These are not Sugar Snap Peas, even though the seed came from a Sugar Snap seed packet.

A bit of history: Sugar Snap Peas were a breeding triumph introduced as an All American Selection in 1979. AAS describes them this way:  “The mature pods of AAS Gold Medal Winner ‘Sugar Snap’ snap pea are round with fleshy walls and are crisp and delicious through full maturity….With Sugar Snap Peas you get to eat the entire pod with the peas nestled inside. The pods are juicy, crisp, sweet, and crunchy. Stringless, 3-inch pods keep their rich color and real crunch after cooking.”

We’d married and purchased our first house the previous autumn and I was planting my first big garden. Sugar Snap Peas went into the seed order.

Come harvest, the peas were an instant success. Even my husband was willing to eat them raw, one of only 3 vegetables he would eat raw. The pods had strings, but the rest of the AAS description was accurate. Snap from the vine, string, and munch, the shortest ever trip from plant to dinner.

True Sugar Snap peas. Seed from the same packet as the top picture.

True Sugar Snap peas. Seed from the same packet as the top picture.

I planted Sugar Snap peas from 1979 to 1993, in NY and then CT. Over the years I tried other, newer, shorter varieties but the original Sugar Snap was always the clear winner in flavor. When we moved to N.C. I discovered none of the varieties of snap peas would grow in my garden because some sort of virus killed the plants about the time they started blooming. When we returned to NY in 1998, I immediately planted snap peas, first Super Sugar Snaps, but then I returned to the original Sugar Snap peas.

In the late 2000’s I started seeing a problem and the problem got worse with each year. The problem was that some of the plants produced snow pea pods, not snap peas. At first it was just one or two plants, but then the porportion of plants producing snow peas started increasing.

In 2014 I decided not to grow the original Sugar Snap because the mix of snap and snow peas in the planting was very annoying. But then I got free seed from 2 sources I had not used before.  A friend had ordered Sugar Snap peas from Johnny’s and offered to share the packet. At the same time I was involved in a vegetable variety trial as a Cornell Master Gardener and they supplied Sugar Snap pea seed from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds.

I planted the Johnny’s seed in 2014 and the Baker Creek seed this year. Both were disappointing. The Johnny’s seed produced about 30% snow peas. The Baker Creek seed is worse. Of the approximately 60 seeds planted, 3 or 4 plants yield true Sugar Snap peas, one produces tough podded shelling peas and the remainder produce snow peas. Thus far, I’ve frozen 2 gallons of the snow peas; the leathery pod makes them less suitable for eating raw. The true Sugar Snaps are so rare that I eat them immediately in the garden. The top 2 pictures are a single days harvest from the Baker Creek seed planting.

My 2014 planting of Sugar Snap peas showing true snap peas  on the left, along side snow peas produced from seed in the same packet.

The snow peas produced from ‘Sugar Snap’ seed have dry, somewhat leathery pods. They are not fleshy, juicy, and brittle like true Sugar Snap pea pods. The shape of the developing peas shows through the snow pea pod. In a true snap pea, the peas do not show. The flavor of the peas in the snow-snap peas is wonderful and true to the original Sugar Snap variety. The plants producing snow peas bloom prolifically and they start blooming several days earlier than the snap peas in the same packet. I can tell at a young age which pods are snow peas, and they do not mature into snap peas.

What is your current experience with the original Sugar Snap pea variety? Who did you buy your seed from and what portion of your harvest is true to variety? Does anyone have any insight into the problem? My feeling is that it is caused by poor breeding, not some fluky weather conditions.

BTW I’ve grown Cascadia snap peas for about a decade and they are always true to type. Cascadia flavor is good and people who have not tasted Sugar Snaps think Cascadia tastes great but I know better.

July 6, 2015

7/6/2015 Currant Events

Filed under: Currants,Fruit — marysveggiegarden @ 10:08 pm

My 4-year old currant bushes set a great crop this year. Last week I was able to harvest enough berries to make currant jam!

Currant jam - mostly Pink Champagne with a few Rovada for color.

Currant jam – mostly Pink Champagne with a few Rovada for color. The jars are cloudy because they are cold, removed from the refrigerator immediately before the photography.

I have five currant bushes. The varieties “Blanka” and “Rovada” were both good-sized bushes when I transplanted them from another location in 2012. I also have three “Pink Champagne” bushes, which I got by rooting branch cuttings in the spring of 2012.

My biggest Pink Champagne bush started ripening berries in early June. They were tart, with a hint of sweetness.  A month later the berries are much sweeter but with a tartness that keeps them interesting. I harvest a handful whenever I’m in the garden. Unfortunately the squirrels are getting interested in the Pink Champagne berries so last Thursday I harvested most of the berries – leaving only a few that were not yet ripe.

I filled a colander with the harvest – a bit over two pounds. I added a handful of red Rovada berries for color. Although deep red, the Rovada berries are still under ripe. I made jam using these two recipes as a basis:  http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2011/06/red-currant-jam-recipe/ and http://foodpreservation.about.com/od/Preserves/r/Red-Currant-Jelly-Recipe.htm and following these directions for jelling:  http://foodpreservation.about.com/od/Preserves/ss/How-To-Test-Jellies-For-The-Jell-Point-A-Step-By-Step-Guide.htm#step1.

My Recipe:

I removed the berries from their trusses and rinsed in several changes of water. I added the berries and .5 c. water to a stainless steel Dutch oven and cooked until the berries released their juice, using a potato masher to smash the berries.

I used an ancient Foley food mill to remove the seeds – removing 10 ounces of seed & skin from the 2 pounds of berries. I ran the juice through the food mill a second time and captured a few more seeds.

Returning the juice to the pot, I added 1.6 c. sugar, then boiled the mix until it jelled. That took at least 20 minutes. The yield was about 2 cups of jam. I didn’t can it, because we are using it right away.

This was my first time making jam, and I boiled it a bit too long. The resulting jam is much stiffer than commercial jam but it can be mashed with a fork. The flavor is intensely fruity, sweet, and tart all at once.  We are eating it on our pancakes instead of syrup.

If I do this again I would start cooking the berries very slowly, with little or no water and add less sugar, maybe only 1 cup.  I would also try for a softer jam. This was my first try and I preferred to err on the side of extra-firm jam, rather than a syrup.

Current Comparison

Currants compared:  red Rovada, Pink Champagne and yellow Blanka.

Currants compared: red Rovada, Pink Champagne and pale yellow Blanka. Some berries split as I pulled them.

Pink Champagne – smallest berry, best flavor, biggest seeds. Ripening first.

Blanka – medium-sized berry, starting to ripen now, not as fruity as Pink champagne.

Rovada – biggest berry. Beautiful, full trusses. Smaller seeds. Ripening slowest.  I hope the flavor develops as they ripen; today I would characterize the flavor as poor.

Pink Champagne currants awaiting harvest.

Pink Champagne currants awaiting harvest. The blush on the berries deepens as the flavor sweetens.

 

Rovada sets berries in long, full trusses. Despite their color, these berries are not yet ripe.

Rovada sets berries in long, full trusses. Despite their color, these berries are not yet ripe.

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