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Keeping Up With Maury
Where have all the English peas gone?
by Maury Feren


My friend George asked me, Where have all the English peas gone? Yes, those old time long peas that you had to open up one by one are called English peas.

So, here is the story. Everything changes, even peas. Many years ago the English peas were the only story in town. In summer, there were a few local growers who would grow them. It was wonderful because they usually were plump and full bodied with lots of peas.

It was the job of the youngest family member to shell them. Often times, there would only be a few peas inside. It was only in the finest markets that you could purchase shelled peas. At one time we had a famous market at Euclid and East 105th Streets. The two top producers were Joe Bova and Joe Scro. You could always purchase shelled peas from them. It was a specialty. It was an upgrade market catering to the carriage trade. They also carried the best in meats, cheese, poultry, and dairy. I would compare it to the West Side Market on a smaller scale but it was definitely on the high end.

During my tenure at T.M. Rini Co. at the Northern Ohio Food Terminal, they would bring in a car load of English peas. These would be packed in a bushel weighing about 40 lbs. In general, they would be medium plump. A car load would be about 500-550 bushels. They were available to everyone, but only the elite markets would offer them shelled. A.J. Tassi and Fiebling Brothers located at Shaker Square would carry them. Most markets sold them intact in bushels.

Today, they have literally disappeared from the market place and it is easy to see why.

Lo and behold, some grower developed the snap pea. You could eat the shell and the peas inside. A few years later, there was another development, a sugar pea that you could nosh on and use in a stir fry, shell and all.

We don't want to forget the impact of the frozen food industry. Beginning with the Libby and the Birdseye Companies it was a frozen conclusion that fresh peas were doomed. All of these companies used machinery to shell their pea crops.

Do you have your answer George? However, I just saw a pint of fresh peas in my favorite market. Just one container, I'll remind you.

So what about lima beans or butter beans as they once were called? It's almost the same story. Here is what happened. Lima beans in the shell would be shipped from as far away as California, plus New Jersey and local farms. They would be packed in 40lb. hampers in the South. Local shipments would be packed in 8lb. peck baskets in the shell. Take note, New Jersey was great truck garden state and an important supplier of lima beans.

Since shelling lima beans was not as difficult or as time consuming as peas, you would always find lima beans in the shell on the trucks of local growers. It was a standard item. Finding them shelled in a pint container was easier because they were always a slow seller. When they began to change color, more on the black side, some of the marketers would shell them.

Again, along came the frozen food people. Shelling lima beans by machine was easy. It wasn't long before the only way you could buy them would be frozen. Today, you might ask one of the growers you know to put some in the optimal ground for next year. I'm sure he will tell you that there is no market for them.

So it goes, the world moves on. Even English Peas, Butter Beans and Lima Beans have to change with it. However, I must add this note. Every study of frozen fruits and vegetables has identified them with the same nutritional value as the fresh.

It would be nice to go back to the fresh if it was possible. T'aint going to happen. Time and energy are just too important to stand over a sink and shell peas and lima beans.


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