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peas, gardening, pea varieties, recipes, farming, cash crops, bacon
A handwritten manuscript entitled, "Peas: De Arrebsa", compiled by Victor C. Dieffenbach, dated June 1, 1954. Within, Dieffenbach details a range of topics surrounding peas, including gardening methods and various recipes associated with the plant.
Packet 577-212-58 to 577-212-64
Peas, or as the earliest settlers would spell it - pease; were an important garden-crop of the colonial times. Since they could be grown in virgin soil without a lot of tilth, they would be planted along the sunny side of the woods, or left to crawl all over a stone-fence - an ideal trellis for their numerous vines. They afforded an early green vegetable, tasty, nourishing, and coming at a time when everyone was tired of the dried products from the attic; and oft-times the latter would be sadly depleted by Spring. If the peas are planted very early it will not hurt them if the ground should freeze, providing they have not come up yet. Here, in rural Berks, with ordinary tillage and fertilizers, I have had the Mammoth Luscious Sugar Pea with pods 8 to nine inches long; when boiled and pickled they make a delicious relish.
Many folks do not plant them thick enough in the row or drill. If they are put about 2 ½ to 3 inches apart will make a very fine planting; the width between the rows should also be considered; you cannot sow them broadcast and expect a fine crop. But if there are two or three rows, a foot apart, and then a 3 ft. space for going through while picking will be about right. Among P. Dutch farm-folk it is customary to give them the old-fashioned support - “mer doona da arrebsa hecka gevva!” (We give the peas brush.) These “hecka” are any kind of brush available; they are cut to approximately five foot lengths, and it will be found to be a great help if they are cut at a sharp angle. “No con mer see besser in der grundt nei shtecka!“ (Then one can push them into the soil much easier.) Some folks, (especially market-gardeners) will use wire-netting.
The reader will understand that all this applies to the tall-growing varieties or sugar-peas.
“De blick-arrebsa”. There are the small stiff-stemmed hull-peas; you come along today and there is nothing to be found - they are too immature and tender - “see sin tsu gnetschich!” Two days later and they resemble a politician all over.
“See shtavia dort, so schteiff un so shtrock we en shtecka, un see bloosa de bocka uff.“ (They stand there as straight and as stiff as a stick, and they blow out their cheeks.)
“Un won do see now uffblicka doosht-lievichey tzeit net nuch! Ei, won sin de gawoxa?”
“And if you pluck them open - beloved days! When did they grow?) If you want a real dish of peas, dating back to the hunter’s fare of ye olden time kill and dress a young and tender chicken. I would prefer a grouse, or pheasant, only you are not allowed to shoot one when your green peas are in season. Fill the inside with diced potatoes and plenty of peas, both pods and kernels; and sew it up. Then put it in a ball of clay (laima) as big as a two-gallon crock and barbecue it in a big pile of red-hot embers for at least ¾ of an hour; the bigger the hen the longer it takes. Roll it out with a stick and hit it a sharp rap, and the baked mud will all fly away. Now let it cool, and dust off all the particles of the baked clay, and you are ready to partake of a dish fit for a king.
“Waurt null! Do ferbrensht dei gush!” (Wait! You are going to scald your mouth!)
“Wunnert's dich now ols nuch we os es coomt os de P. Deitscha oll so dick un rundt un fro gooka?” (Are you still wondering why all the P. Dutch are fat and round and jolly?)
You now have all the juices and vital elements - all the vitamins and the life-giving properties that Nature gave to the lowly pea. A Dutchman will never stop growing as long as he lives. He will grow in stature up to a certain age, until he has attained his individual height; but then, from there on, he grows in the middle until he dies. This applies to both sexes.
Peas do not require an excessive amount of plant-food, but like all legumes they holler for lime; a moderate application will double the yield.
Modern farmers recognize the pea as a hardy quick cash crop; and the net result, while not so rosy-looking as some farm prices, is much more stable.
“De uxa de kenna blarra we der deyfel, un de arrebsa mocha net loud!” (The steers can bawl and holler like all hell - “lose money”- and the peas will not emit a sound!)
Within a radius of ten miles can be found half a dozen pea hullers; and the modern, up-to-date farmer is not so apt to lose money on his crops as are the plodders, who follow the tracks of their fore-fathers, driving their fattened steers to the city.
Peas, like any other legume, convert gases into tiny tubercules or nodules, and thus enrich the soil.
Primitive man, while unaware of the chemical elements contained in his victuals, nevertheless knew whether an all-meat diet or a mixed one was best for him. Being partly herbivorous did not detract from the life-giving power of what he consumed; as to its [palatability], it might be just a matter of time or of individual taste, and one would say - “that is the best grass I ever ate!”
So if one reads about modern chemical research and new discoveries - “Ach, da hell mitt!” Luss uns tsurick aw de arrebsa. If alternate plantings are made, lets say every two weeks, up to June, you will never regret it; i.e. if you like peas - if you don’t, then plant some eutherincumdorialemnys. “Wos? Wos os sell dort iss? Sell sawg Ich eich net - Ich wase es meiner-sole schwert net!“ (What? What that is? I ain’t going to tell you, for 'pon my soul, I don’t know it myself.)
But the old folks used to have this in their cabbage-patch over a hundred years ago; they always called it “boova leiss os gschwisha daroya ruff cooma sin”. Now deer oldta shuckel-shtool-rutscher, buttst de brill un used ire kepp un no schreibt meer wos es iss?” (Now you old rocking-chair-riders and fire-side-huggers, clean your specs, and use your brains, and then write and tell me what it is!)
Peas are nourishing and fattening; they were a staple diet of the Indian, being semi-parched and then carried along when on the war-path. Mistaken historians have quoted the Indian as not partaking of food in any form while out in a war-party. The self-same historian would have shot a deer, and built a fire to broil it, and thus betrayed his presence by the smoke of his camp fire. The wily redskin living on a few cereals concealed in a fold of his breech-clout, and supplemented with a few wild seeds, roots, berries or even some foliage, had his fill of life giving victuals, which, while not being top-notch as regards their flavor, were nevertheless edible.
In conclusion I must mention another favorite dish of my grandmother’s invention (I do not believe that she ever owned a cook-book - not to my knowledge - but she could read) for she liked to dabble with food - dump this and that and some of the others into a bowl - (none of it was measured nor weighed) and then she’d taste it and add some more of one; when she had it to suit her taste she would put some of it in a pan and put it in the oven; and very likely she’d take a hunk of it, cut it in slices and fry it in deep fat. But one day we hulled peas, she and I; she said grandad was coming home and he liked peas; and then came a message saying they had some kind of a hold-up on the project they were working on, and he wouldn’t come that week. He was a building contractor. So we had a lot of peas and an old woman and a little boy to eat them. First of all she gave about ½ of them to my mother (they lived in the same house) but I stayed with granny. She stewed the peas until about one half done; then she put them in the bean-pot and smothered them with scads of “seida-schpeck”- (bacon) and baked them until done. We ate and we ate. She told old Mollie that when she put me to bed - “We ich mitter in der kich waur doe wawra sei awga shundt on der kommer-deer - so arrig hen meer gfressa - sei auga hen ous en kupp rous gshtonna.” (When I was in the middle of the kitchen his eyes were already at the door of the bed chamber - we ate so much - his eyes popped out of his head.)
She could regulate the heat, or the amount of the fat or how she did it, I don’t know; but those peas were nice, soft and crumbly, and almost mealy. I have been in several different states along the Atlantic sea-shore; I have eaten in some fine and stylish hotels as well as in a cabin or hovel. But in all of them I have never met the likes of that one dish.
I would prefer, if it were possible to regale myself on them for just one last meal and then quit eating and vanish from the scene.
I see a shadow of a man swinging a club, and I recollect the time I heard a pedagogue tell me - “do husht witter gabreddicht.” (You were again preaching.)
June 1st. 1954. Der Aldt Bauer
English and Pennsylvania German
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Dieffenbach, Victor C., "Dieffenbach on Peas, June 1, 1954" (1954). Alfred L. Shoemaker Folk Cultural Documents. 156.
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Signed in Dieffenbach's pen name of "Der Oldt Bauer" (The Old Farmer).