To mark the end of school each year, Mama would take us out for banana splits at the drug store ice cream fountain just around the corner from school. My sister, Susan, and I sat on the vinyl-covered round stools that spun around and dangled our bare legs while I ate my banana split topped with walnuts in a gooey syrup, and she ate plain chocolate ice cream.
Mama also made garden pea and Irish potato pastry to mark the end of school and the beginning of summer. She’d make mine with peas and Susan’s with just the potatoes (always the picky one that girl.)
She’d usually make the pastry for us at lunch, and Susan and I would enjoy it after a morning filled with "Captain Kangaroo” and playing with our Dawn dolls.
The recipe grew to be a favorite of mine, and I learned to associate it with early summer and the feeling of freedom and anticipation that comes with no school for a few months. Good memories!
I imagine the tradition started easily enough because the beginning of summer coincides with the few brief weeks when sweet garden peas are coming off the vines and backyard gardeners are first harvesting tiny new potatoes that pop when you bite into them.
My earlier memories of eating garden pea and potato pastry are from my grandmother Owens’ house. Susan remembers having it there, too. So Mama must have learned to make it from her mama.
Over the years, Susan and I would ask Mama to make the pastry from time to time, even after we were adults, and my children would beg her for it as well. She often made pastry with chicken but only once or twice a year made it with garden peas and potatoes. The novelty of the pretty pastry was appealing to us, I guess, because it was different and so very good.
In the early years, Mama made her own pastry strips. She’d roll out the flour and water-based mixture into thin strips and hang them around bowls to dry out a bit before dropping them into pots of steaming broth. That’s certainly how she would have made it when Susan and I were little girls instead of relying on the frozen version from the grocery store that she grew to love. I have her handwritten recipe for homemade pastry strips — although I’ve never made it — but I had no recipe for the garden pea and potato pastry.
Several years back, my children mentioned how much they’d like to have the pastry with the peas and potatoes again. They mentioned it a lot. I had never made it, but once they brought it up, I started craving it, too. Mama, who had Alzheimer’s disease, was no longer cooking, and asking her how she made it was not an option. I knew the basic idea of how to make it, but I had questions about the broth and how to cook the potatoes, so I called Mama’s sister, who helped me on several occasions over the years when I needed help in the kitchen.
As it turns out, it’s an easy recipe. Basically, you boil a chicken and make plenty of seasoned broth. After removing the chicken (which you can use for chicken salad or in a casserole) and straining the broth, cook some new potatoes in the broth until they are tender, and add the garden peas towards the end of the cooking time. Then drop in frozen pastry strips one at a time and cook until the strips are tender, stirring occasionally.
My son doesn’t like the peas, so I divide the broth and cooked potatoes into two pots before adding the peas.
I made garden pea and Irish potato pastry last week as the last family meal I cooked before my son packed up his room and moved out of town to start his first full-time job.
I couldn’t get fresh garden peas at the farmers market because I got there a little too late for the few that were available. But that’s OK, the frozen variety worked fine. I did however, come back from the farmers market with a container of freshly dug potatoes that I used in the pastry.
I mentioned the pastry to several people at the farmers market last week and later at the grocery store; I was curious if other families made it as well. I got similar responses at both places: "I haven’t had that since my grandmother made it for me.” "My mother-in-law used to make that.” "I haven’t had that in years!”
I felt like I was back in Mama’s kitchen when I first smelled the aroma coming from the pot of steaming pastry Thursday night; that’s a comforting feeling I don’t get too often anymore.
We all enjoyed our pastry, and I enjoyed recalling the story behind it. Makes me wonder if my children will ever make garden pea and Irish potato pastry for their kids one day. I sure hope so.
Garden Pea and Irish Potato Pastry
- 1 3 to 4-pound chicken, cut-up
- Water for boiling
- Salt and pepper
- Pint of small, new potatoes, scraped or cut into smaller pieces if desired =
- 1 cup (approximately) garden peas (fresh is better, but frozen works well too)
- Box of frozen pastry strips (I use Anne’s old-fashioned, frozen flat dumplings)
Add potatoes to broth and simmer until tender. Add peas at end of cooking time to boil for about 5 minutes. Add pastry strips to simmering broth, one at a time. (You might not need the entire box.) Stir pastry to mix into broth and cook until tender. Add hot water if broth gets low. Serve immediately.