Market Digest: McGrath Farms’ Early Season English Peas

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Oregon Trail English Peas from McGrath Family Farms (Photo by Camellia Tse)

Green peas have long suffered somewhat of an identity crisis. Often relegated to frozen or canned soggy lunchtime cafeteria fare, they’ve gotten a bad reputation that they don’t deserve. Frozen and/or canned peas share nothing in common with the sweet, nutritious backyard garden crop. With the standards for healthy, delicious food on the rise, I think it’s time to give green peas another chance.  

The fresh English peas from McGrath Family Farms in Camarillo aren’t your lunch lady’s peas. With a pinch at the top and a pull of its “string”, the mostly inedible pod easily releases vibrant green peas. The peas have a firm texture and a pleasant, sweet aftertaste. But this is no fluke. Over fifteen years ago, when the McGrath farmers decided to start growing peas, they planted nine different pea varietals. After harvesting multiple yields and running numerous taste tests, the overall winner was the Oregon Trail English pea, which is what they still grow to this day.

Peas are typically a springtime crop. They struggle to flower in the cold, wet of winter and fall victim to bugs as temperatures rise during the late spring. Paul Thurston of McGrath Family Farms tells us that, thanks to Southern California’s more temperate climate, they’re able to drop pea seeds into the ground in September. They’ve just started bringing their English peas to the market now and are selling them both shelled and whole.

McGrath Peas - Jason Park & Paul Thurston (1)
Chef Jason Park of Maru explains the flavor difference in peeling the shells off English peas to Paul Thurston of McGrath Farms. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Jason Park is the executive chef/owner of Maru , a French and Japanese-inspired restaurant in Santa Monica. Today at the Santa Monica Farmers Market , we found Jason filling up a large box full of McGrath’s English peas which he uses in his Scallop and English Pea Ravioli . His cooks must let out a collective moan when Jason bursts through the kitchen doors with a fresh box of peas in hand because as he explained, each pea is blanched, shelled and meticulously peeled of its skin. That’s a lot of labor, but the final product is an oh so smooth ravioli filling.

You can find his recipe for Scallop and English Pea Ravioli here .