by David Cecelski
It is May now and my thoughts turn to Currituck Sound and May peas. The mainland of Currituck County is one of the few places in the state where May peas are a highlight of gardening and cookery. The humus soils and gentle, coastal climate there make for good growing conditions for those tender and oh so sweet English garden peas that are only available for a few weeks this time of year. Old timers down there have been dreaming of them for weeks, and so have I.
The classic Currituck Sound way of preparing May peas is this:
Boil roughly equal amounts fresh May peas and very tiny fingerling new potatoes until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Use just enough water to cover the vegetables. A few minutes before the potatoes are done, add flour dumplings (flour, salt and water) and serve. The dumplings usually break up enough to make a nice gravy, though some cooks like to add a little flour or corn starch to the broth as thickener. Old-fashioned cooks often boil the peas and potatoes with a little ham or salt pork, which makes the dish a real centerpiece of a dinner.
Tommy Grandy, a Currituck County farmer and the local agricultural extension agent, used to run a produce stand at his and his brother’s farm in the Grandy community. The other day, Tommy told me that his May pea customers sometimes asked him if they could walk into the fields next to the produce stand and dig their own new potatoes. They were seeking the tiny, incredibly tender, thumb-sized new potatoes, smaller than any farmer would usually sell, to cook with their peas. They understood that the tenderness of both the May peas and potatoes is what makes the dish the stuff of dreams.
Asparagus also flourishes along Currituck Sound this time of year. Tommy, who is 62, told me that his mother often prepared asparagus just like she did May peas: she’d cut up the stalks, boil them with new potatoes, salt pork and dumplings and make almost a stew or soup out of them.
Asparagus grows so well in Currituck County that my friend Barbara Snowden often cuts asparagus stalks out of roadside ditches. A very gifted school teacher who retired a couple of years ago from Currituck High School, she told me that she often finds asparagus in ditches next to farm fields where it was once grown. She cut some asparagus out of a ditch just last week, she told me the other day.
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This time of year, you can usually find May peas and asparagus at a host of produce markets and farm stands in Currituck County. Most are located along the heavily-trafficked NC 158 corridor that brings beachgoers down from Virginia to the Outer Banks. Fresh May peas are just starting to show up at Tar Heel Produce in Powell’s Point, Powell’s Roadside Market in Moyock, and Morris Farm Market in Barco and probably others.
You can also find fresh, local May peas in the other counties north of Albemarle Sound—Camden, Chowan, Gates, Pasquotank and Perquimans. Here’s a list of produce markets and farm stands in those counties where you might find them. I’ve selected the most likely candidates from a longer list that was published last year by the Master Gardeners of Chowan, Gates, and Perquimans counties, in conjunction with the local N.C. State Cooperative Extension Service. Tommy Campbell, the Ag. Extension agent in Elizabeth City, sent it to me.
Before you go, be sure to call the operators. You don’t want to waste a trip if you have your heart set on a particular crop like May peas.
- Poor Boy’s Roadside – Linda Bray, (252) 338-0240 , Belcross Road at Hwy158, Belcross, Apr.-Dec., Mon – Sat 9 am – 6 pm.
- Poor Man’s Fruits & Vegetables- Ed McPherson, 859 N 343, Camden, 771-8123, Self-Serve Honor Market.
- Southside Produce & Plants- Wayne Long, 102 Hwy 158 E, Camden,(252) 33 8-3099, Seasonal Mon-Sat10am- 5:30pm, Sun1-5pm.
- Ward’s Greenhouse – Dustin Ward, 1375 N 343, South Mills, (252) 771-5211days, (252) 312-5008 evenings, Apr.-Sept., Tue-Fri 9-3, Sat 9-1.
- Williams Farm Market – Franklin Williams, N 343, South Mills, 8am-8pm (252) 771-2647 .
- Edenton Farmers’ Market —South end of Broad St. near the waterfront,Edenton, (252) 482- 3708. Every Sat morning, 8 am-1 2 am, April-Oct.
- Pigs Plus Farms – Louis W. Nixon, 311 Evans-Bass Rd., Edenton. (252) 221-8645 , Apr. 20- mid.-Aug, Mon-Sat., 8 am-5 pm.
- Somerset Farm – Frederick & Jeannie Inglis, 5038 Somerset Lane, Edenton. (252) 482-2987 . Mid.-Apr. – Oct., Wed. afternoons and Sat. mornings. (I know these folks—real good people. But be sure to call first to check availability.)
- The Garden Shack- Eddie & Dodie Evans, 930 Virginia Rd. (Hwy 32), Edenton, (252) 482-1100 , Year round Mon-Fri 8am-5pm, Sat 8 am- 4 pm.
- W. R. Bunch Produce – Joyce & Keith Bunch, 2833 RockyHock Rd. alsoat Hwy 32 S at Soundside Rd., Edenton, (252) 221-4594 . Mid-May thru Thanksgiving, Mon. –Fri., 8:30 – 6, Sat., 8:30am-4pm.
- Eason Farms – William Donald Eason, 311 Bosley Rd., Sunbury, (252) 465-8233 , End of Apr. thru May. Call ahead for days & hours.
- Bright’s Delights Produce – Shel & Margaret Bright, 1156 US 17 S., Elizabeth City, (252) 338-6421 , 9 am-5:30 pm Mon-Sat, year round.
- Brothers Farm Market – Bobby & Almarie Brothers, 1154 Perkins Lane, Elizabeth City, (252) 335-5760 , Mon-Sat 8 am-dusk, Sun., 1pm-dusk.
- Once Again Collectibles & Produce- Ron & Melanie Boswell, 1673 Morgan’s Corner Rd., Elizabeth City, (252) 771-9950 , Apr-Dec, Mon-Sat 9-7, Sun., 12-6 pm.
- Warrior’s Ridge PYO strawberry patch— Terry Cooper, (252) 338-1125 or 312-8671. Near the corner of Body Rd. and Nixonton Rd. Mid-May to early July. Call for days and times.
- Addie’s Acres — Jeff Spear, (252) 331-5871 , 401 Jackson Drive (off of Main Street extended), Elizabeth City.
- Belvidere Berry Farm- Shelly Monnseratt & Michelle Sawyer, 1315 Belvidere Rd, Belvidere, (252) 297-9967 , Mid-June –Sept., Mon. -Sat., 8 am-6 pm.
- Big C’s Produce- C. W. Overton, Hwy 17S at corner of E. Bear Swamp Rd., Hertford, (252) 333-5043 , end of Apr. – Sept., 7days/wk, 10 am – 6 pm.
- Jesse Byrum’s Produce -Jesse Byrum, Located at Larry’s Drive In, Hertford, (252) 221-8634 after 8pm, Year round, weather permitting, Mon-Sat., 10 am-6 pm.
- Looking Back Farms/Perry’s Farm– Ken & Ben Haines, 589 Chinquapin Rd., Tyner, (252) 426-2218 . Call for hours and availability.
- Mike’s Produce – Mike Rethford, Harvey Pt Rd, toward Albemarle Plantation about 2 miles on the left. Hertford, 426-7288, Year round, Tues.-Sat., 10 am-6 pm.
When I talked to Tommy Campbell the other day, he was especially excited about the recent opening of new produce market and pick-your-own farm not yet on the list. The new place is called Holly’s Melting Pot Produce and Market, and is located at 1668 Ocean Highway N. (Hwy. 17 N), next to Gospel Park, in Hertford, Perquimans County.
Tommy says that Holly Wang Riggs, a local farmer’s daughter, is highlighting traditional local vegetables and cooking, but also really emphasizes Asian vegetables and cuisine. She’ll be carrying May peas and May pea sprouts, a mainstay of much Asian cooking and a delicious addition to a salad, sandwich or stir fries.
Another good place to get May peas is the Pasquotank County Farmers Market, in Elizabeth City. The market is located downtown at 315 Pritchard Street and is open on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 8 am to 4 pm, from May to Christmas Eve.
Not very often, but now and then, you can also find May peas at local cafes. I’ve had some wonderful May peas and new potatoes at Johnnie’s on NC 158, near Sunbury, in Gates County, and Barbara Snowden says that, once in a blue moon, you can also find them at one of her favorite Currituck County restaurants, BJ’s Carolina Café, in Jarvisburg.
One last place I like to go for asparagus isMartin Orchard and Vineyard on Knotts Island. It’s out of the way, but worth the trip: you can take the state ferry from Currituck village to the island and see the sites of the grand old hunting clubs on Swan Island and Bell’s Island in the distance during the crossing.
Once you’re on Knotts Island, you can tour the Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge and visit the marshlands on the island’s north end. Both are great places for bird watching. The Martin Orchard and Vineyard, roughly 2½ miles from the ferry landing, is about the prettiest place on Earth: there are vineyards and peach and apple orchards and you’re right on the edge of Knotts Island Bay.