When I moved from the corporate world of Boston to southern Minnesota in the summer of 2011, I was quickly immersed in a very different lifestyle. With my husband Kurt as my guide, I jumped right into gardening, raising chickens, and preserving food. In the last five years, I've preserved a lot of food. I've pickled eggs, cucumbers, green beans, and banana peppers; canned pasta sauce, salsa, tomato juice, and several flavors of jam; and frozen carrots, peas, green beans, broccoli, and morel mushrooms. But today I am going to share the tale of my very first food-preservation adventure.


Putting Up Peas: July 2, 2011


Yesterday afternoon, Kurt and I took Felicity, my sporty little Mazda Miata convertible, into the city to the big hardware store and the big grocery store, and on the way home, we stopped by one of his brother’s fields where they were harvesting peas.

Yes, that’s Felicity parked in the middle of a pea field. (I popped out of the air conditioning long enough to snap that picture and wilt in the heat.) That is one of the three enormous combines (can you see that little gray man standing just in front of the machine? He’s six feet tall.) they were running to get this job done as quickly as possible; the high was in the 90s with the humidity making it feel between 110-115 degrees. Neither the peas nor the workers liked to sit around in that kind of heat. So Kurt filled up a couple buckets with peas, squeezed them into the trunk of the Miata, and we headed home.


Now, I had read that in order to “put up peas” they needed to be cleaned, blanched, and frozen. The cleaning part (which involves keeping your hands in cold running water while picking out the dirt clods, stems, broken peas, and the occasional baby pod) sounded like a nice way to spend a few hours in the hot afternoon. The blanching part, which involves turning on the stove and working over a large pot of boiling water, didn’t sound very appealing. So my idea was to clean them and refrigerate them overnight and I could steam up the kitchen in the morning before the day got too hot.


After about three hours of cleaning, I’d finished one of the two buckets. This may not sound like a big accomplishment, but these aren’t just any buckets… these are super-huge five-gallon buckets! I had never seen so many peas before in my life, and I was only a portion of the way through!

I put in a call to one of Kurt’s sisters-in-law who is considered the family expert on this matter and she said that peas will sour if they don’t get blanched on the day they are picked. So, at 5pm, I sent Kurt out for ice and I set up a pea-blanching mass production system in the kitchen.


Here’s how I did it…start with clean peas.

Transfer a few cups into a metal colander (we borrowed this one from his mom, and he outfitted it with new extra-long wire handles).

Place the colander in a big pot of boiling water, and set the kitchen timer for 2 minutes.

After the peas have boiled for 90 seconds, remove the metal colander and transfer peas into a strainer.

Immediately place the strainer in an ice bath (we used a full-sized chest cooler, which worked very well). That stops the cooking process so they don't get too mushy.

While the peas are cooling in the ice bath, put the next batch of clean peas into the metal colander and then into the boiling water. If you get really good at this, you can get the second batch of peas into the boil just as the 2-minute timer for the first batch goes off, which you can then reset for another two minutes (and start all over again).


Once the second batch is in the boil, take the first batch out of the ice bath and transfer the peas to a clean bowl or pail. Plastic one-gallon ice cream pails are used over and over and over again around here, for everything from the scrap bucket in the kitchen to watering the flower garden to “putting up peas”. They are just the right size for nearly every job, are easy to clean, and they come with a nice sturdy handle. (Plus it gives you a good excuse to eat a gallon of ice cream.)


Then transfer the peas into clean, labeled Ziploc bags and put them in the freezer as quickly as you can. (This was the step that Kurt took care of, which was great because with all the other stuff going on in the kitchen, I don’t think I could have bagged them too!) Our subject-matter-expert says you won’t get freezer burn if you put a little water in the bag with the peas when you freeze them. [PS - I've done it with and without water and it seems to be fine either way.]


Once the first five-gallon bucket was finished, I started cleaning the second bucket. By this time (about 7pm, five hours into production), I started getting a little punchy, so naturally Kurt grabbed my camera and started clicking away. After all, you can't let pea-induced-crazy like this go undocumented.

Over the next five hours, the second bucket was cleaned, boiled, iced, bagged, and put in the freezer. We finished up around 12:15am. Kurt insisted on accuracy when labeling the freezer bags so the first thirty-two bags say “Peas 7-1-11” but the last three say “Peas 7-2-11”.

So, in ten hours, the peas went from field to freezer. A year’s supply: 35 bags each containing 3 cups (105 cups total) of frozen peas. And that, my friends, was my first (but certainly not last) adventure in “putting up peas”!!!



Published by Phoebe DeCook