Tranquility Farms, the sign read. You pick ’em.
As I passed the sign on the back-country road, the soothing fingers of fate waved to me. Beckoned me. Halted me.
It had been a long time since I’d taken an afternoon off to wander unknown country roads, hugging curves and anticipating vistas, as I crested hill after hill. Realizing that such places still exist in this crazy world, I smiled.
Wow. It had been decades since I picked my own food. I pulled onto the dirt apron of a parking lot and gazed at the large, handwritten sign behind the counter. It listed the fruits and vegetables either for picking or purchasing pre-picked and packaged.
My eyes were drawn to the sign for English Peas and my memories to Grammy’s English Pea Salad. Simply dressed with olive oil and lemon, and sprinkled with freshly ground salt and pepper, it tickled my fancy and my taste buds.
I knew I could replicate it. Closing my eyes, I put myself in Grammy’s old country kitchen. Sun streamed through oversized windows. I was maybe 7 years old. With my unruly hair pulled back into a loose ponytail, I sat shelling peas on a chair boosted with several cookbooks. The memory was priceless.
The present, however, was calculable. Hand-picked, 35 cents per pound. Shelled and packaged, 99 cents per pound. With the midday sun tempered by a soft breeze, acres upon acres of rows upon rows enticed me. It was a no-brainer. I didn’t have to be anywhere. I grabbed a hat from the back seat.
“We’ve got a bumper crop,” the farmer said as he handed me a basket. “Use one hand to hold the pea vine and the other hand to pull the pea pods off. That’s it.” He smiled as he waggled his left arm toward a row of ready-to-pick peas.
I was in heaven. As I picked pod after pod, I reconstructed Grammy’s specialty. Quick steam bath, then ice plunge. I could feel the al dente snap of the smooth round orbs against the roof of my mouth, taste the pop of freshly squeezed lemon, smell the tang of fresh mint, and savor the spike of minced shallots. It had to be shallots. No chives or scallions. Not for this heirloom recipe.
I’d invite the girls over. We loved sharing recipes and memories. Especially recipes with memories. I’d serve the salad on Grammy’s pink dessert plates along with iced tea in the matching tumblers. Maybe sugar cookies for dessert. We’d sit on the lanai.
The salad tasted better with each pod picked. As my back stiffened, skin burned, and fingers ached, I scrutinized the amount of peas in my basket. Logic and fantasy tussled for control. I needed about a pound of raw pods for a cup of peas, and about 5 cups of peas for a party-sized dish. I briefly considered a private salad for one. No. Grammy and her salad were worth more than that.
An hour (and eight pounds) later, I was ready to check out. With my attention warped by memories, arms crammed with peas, and vision compromised by the morrow, I tripped. Peas flew everywhere. Crows materialized. People stared. I cried. The manager rushed over.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
With lips quivering, I nodded.
“Don’t worry, Dolly,” he said, patting my arm and pulling me to my feet. “We’ve got lots of picked peas. I’ll sell them to you for the same price.”
I shook my head, trying desperately to grasp the tranquility of this farm.
“All I wanted,” I sobbed, “was those peas of mine.”