The Princess and the Pea

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Lee Jordan/flickr


Unlike a lot of picky eaters, I wasn't often forced to eat foods I disliked as a child. My parents were fairly finicky themselves and therefore served us a limited range of comforting but less-than-adventurous foods. Occasionally, yes, I found myself ordered to choke down a pile of kidney beans I had surreptitiously separated from the rest of my chili. But for the most part, I happily ate what was placed in front of me.

Except for peas. How is it possible to hate peas?, you may ask. They're innocuous. They're tiny. By the time you bite into a pea, it's already gone. At its best, pea-lovers rhapsodize, the pea is springtime itself in a perfect green pearl.

We are not talking about the same vegetable. Like many people of my generation—and, apparently, the entire country of England—I grew up eating a lot of canned vegetables. My formative experience with peas was not of a fresh vegetable that popped with bright flavor but of a boiled, slightly-grey globule that dissolved under my fork into a puddle of goo.

I could just about make it through a helping of peas if I swallowed them whole with a big mouthful of milk. But if I bit down, it was all over. Slimy, gross green goo.

These canned monstrosities—which bore very little resemblance to the real thing—became my standard for how peas looked and tasted. That was particularly unfortunate because my grandparents grew English peas in their enormous garden and one of my grandma's signature dishes was a potato and pea salad. I have fond memories of sitting at their picnic table shelling peas for dinner, and I would have noticed that these peas were brighter and firmer than the ones that made me shudder. But there was no way I was going to eat that salad. I knew peas, and peas were not my friends.

So peas and I have been at a stand-off for most of my life. I may grudgingly include one or two on a forkful of spring vegetable risotto or let the spiciness of a vegetable biryani mask their taste. But in general they will end up shoved to the side of my plate by the end of a meal.

A few weeks ago, however, I was inspired to give peas a chance. I had called up Carla Hall, Top Chef season five finalist and Washington-area caterer, to get her advice about overcoming food aversions. Hall said it's important to figure out why you don't like a certain food in order to determine whether you can change your taste for it. "I think a lot of our dislikes—and this is why I try to revisit a lot of the foods I disliked as a child—have to do with who made them for us and how they prepared it," she explained.

Liver is one of those foods for Hall. "With liver, I know it's the texture I don't like. Maybe if someone used molecular gastronomy and made it crispy, I might like it," she suggested. "Or if they combined it with flavors I know I like." What Hall does love to eat are peas. Loves them. She's a pea proselytizer. And she swore that she could win me over with her pea pesto, which she uses as a spread inside grilled cheese sandwiches.

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Amy Sullivan is a correspondent for National Journal and the director of the Next Economy Project. More

Amy Sullivan is a writer and former senior editor at TIME Magazine who covers politics, religion and culture. She previously served as the magazine's nation editor and as editor of The Washington Monthly. Her first book, The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats are Closing the God Gap, was published by Scribner in 2008. She was a 2009 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science & Religion.

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