Even though so many of our traditional farmers market signals of spring have been converted to year-round production, there's one that has resisted all attempts -- the pea.
Called English peas to differentiate them from snow peas or sugar snap peas, they are around only in the cool part of the spring. When the weather turns warm, they wilt away to nothing.
Here's my favorite way to eat them, learned from my old friend, cookbook writer Sylvia Thompson: Simmer the peas in their pods in a skillet with about 1 inch of water and a nice chunk of butter. Cook them just until the pods glow and begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Drain, sprinkle generously with coarse salt and then eat them by popping the whole pod in your mouth and pulling it out between your teeth. You get a scraping of slightly bitter green from the pod and then the explosion of sweet green flavor from the peas themselves.
Do this only with close friends: You'll wind up with mouths smeared with butter and mounds of discarded pea hulls.
How to choose: Look for pods that are well-filled out and crisp. If there are leaves attached, they shouldn't be too wilted. Don't worry about any blemishes on the pod. Most places, you can pop a pea from the pod and taste it without getting yelled at; this is the best method for choosing.