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Peas In A Pod: Life Is Sweet With Mr. Big

The Mr. Big variety of English peas are ripe for the picking.

The Mr. Big variety of English peas are ripe for the picking.

Jo Mancuso/OPB

When Katherine Deumling anticipated sourcing English shelling peas for the video shoot of her recipe, the question was: Would any be ripe in time?

Turning to Portland Farmers Market vendors, she learned that Mr. Big peas were coming along fine in greenhouses at Rick Steffen Farm in Silverton, Oregon. Deumling was able to buy heaps of excellent pods just one week into May. Logan Umbarger is the self-described self-appointed farm manager at Rick Steffen Farm on Silverton Road.

Q&A with Logan Umbarger of Rick Steffen Farm

Jo Mancuso: Have you grown many varieties of peas on the farm?

Logan Umbarger: We tried different ones over the years before settling on Mr. Big. We get the seeds from Burpee.

JM: What’s special about this variety?

LU: It’s sweet and holds the flavor quite a while. Peas can lose flavor quickly, like corn, as the sugar turns to starch. Also the very large pod is easy to shell and the peas are good-sized.

JM: What are the challenges of growing shelling peas in the Willamette Valley?
LU: They are temperamental when it comes to heat. Peas like cooler temperatures – around 75 to 80 degrees is ideal. Outside you should plant in shadier or cooler areas. But the Northwest’s damp can bring powdery mildew so you have to choose varieties that are resistant to it. And if you plant in March, a late frost can kill the crop.

JM: How do you maintain the proper environment for peas?

LU: Our farm is between 10 and 15 acres and almost everything is grown in 50 clear-plastic greenhouses, each 30 by 200 feet. They have black plastic as ground cover for weed control and drip irrigation. It’s around 20 degrees warmer inside the greenhouse, depending on the sun and whether we close the ends off to trap the heat. When it’s above 75 to 80 degrees outside for three or four days, the peas get too warm so we cover them with black fabric that cuts the sun by 10 to 20 percent.

JM: When was the first harvest this year and how long will the season last?

LU: The first peas were ready in the greenhouses in early May. Around that time, we replanted outside in the ground directly from seed. Later in the season they mature faster because it’s warmer all day. We’ll be harvesting through the end of June. After that – they don’t like the heat.

JM: What do your customers tell you they do with Mr. Bigs?

LU: They’ll buy 30 pounds, shell and eat them raw, maybe use them in salads. But customers report not even making it even home with the peas most of the time.

JM: If someone did manage to get any pea pods home, what’s the best way to store them?

LU: Put them in the vegetable crisper drawer in the ‘fridge and turn the humidity up to high, but only for a couple of days. Longer than that, put the pods in airtight zip-lock bags and freeze for up to three or four months. After that the sugars turn to starch.

JM: What is the best way to shell peas?

LU: Grab the base and crack it open a little. Stick your thumb in and run it from bottom to top along the intercasing. The peas fall right into your hand.

JM: Where are they sold?

LU: Portland Farmers Market at PSU, Shemanski Park and Pioneer Courthouse Square, and the farmers’ markets in Hillsdale (Portland), Salem, Corvallis and Bend. We have a small self-serve farm stand on Silverton Road. We also sell produce to the Silver Grille Cafe & Wines Restaurant and the Gathering Spot in Silverton. In Portland we have accounts with Ava Gene’s and the Brooklyn House Restaurant.

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