by Joe Devlin and Emily Berk
This piece was originally published in Coastviews, June 2000 issue.
The only green food our daughter Fizzy eats is English
peas. What her diet lacks in variety, she makes up for in quantity; she's
been known to eat upwards of 12 pounds of fresh peas a week.
Starting in late spring and on through to fall, the peas produced on our coast have got to be the best in the world. On our weekly pea run, we see local growers Louis Iacopi and Terry Andreotti regularly at their stands at the farmers' market at College of San Mateo. We meet grower Ray Chiesa at the G. Berta stand on our way east on 92.
"We only plant what we love to eat," says Louis Iacopi (pronounced YA-co-pi), who grows "mostly English peas, some sugar snap peas and some beans" on about 50-60 acres on Half Moon Bay airport property. Regulations preclude Iacopi from irrigating airport land, so his produce grows using available moisture. South of town, where he can irrigate, Iacopi plants a wider variety of beans.
"Crops from non-irrigated fields are sweeter," Iacopi claims. "They absorb sweetness from drought conditions. Irrigated plants are lusher, but they don't have that extra flavor."
Iacopi sells his produce at farmers' markets— San Mateo, Redwood City, occasionally Serramonte, the San Rafael Civic Center, Embarcadero and Market Streets in San Francisco— and to restaurants through wholesalers. "Selling at the San Francisco farmers' markets is fun," he says. "Those fancy city people rush down from their office towers to buy our fresh produce."
There are hazards to growing crops at an airport. "Gusts of wind displace planes onto our fields," laughs Iacopi. "As long as their landing gear doesn't collapse, they don't usually do too much damage to the crops. And there was an F-18 parked near our fava beans one Dream Machines. I had fried, crispy fava beans in that area that year.
"We don't use any pesticides on our crops," Iacopi told us. "They are a hassle."
Ray and Eugenia Chiesa have operated G. Berta, the little farm and produce stand on Highway 92, for over three decades now. Eugenia's father, G. Berta, started farm operations back in 1924 and built the stand in 1934. "Never saw the need to change the name," the Chiesas say.
G. Berta sells peas, beets, Swiss chard, and carrots, all grown on just 13 acres. "Farming here is nothing like farming elsewhere. Because of the sea and the way weather channels through our valleys, every farm faces different growing conditions. Some local farmers grow peas through September. My pea season is shorter and quite variable. Last year I planted peas on March 12, this year I planted on April 29. Either way, by August all my peas are long gone. You have to do what the Man Upstairs tells you to do," says Chiesa.
"Some customers have been coming here for two or three generations. Big stars like Tennessee Ernie Ford, Bing Crosby and Shirley Temple used to be regulars. We get less glamorous crowds these days, but tastes haven't changed. People still stop by on the way to the beach to buy 'a bag of peas.' But the bag is never big enough! They finish them all on the beach and then come back to buy another bag to bring home."
Don't mention cooking your peas to Ray Chiesa. "Fresh, raw peas are the best. As one customer tells me, 'If I wanted to cook them, I'd buy them frozen.'"
The Chiesas put in long days: "Most days I start on the farm by 7 a.m. About 10 a.m. I open the stand. Summer weekends we try to stay open till at least 7 p.m. It makes for a long day." G. Berta is open year-round.
The Andreotti family has farmed here since 1926. "We used to farm from Half Moon Bay to Pescadero," Terry Andreotti says proudly. Now, Terry, her husband, Dino, son, Frank and daughter, Haley raise free-range chickens and eggs and grow flowers and a remarkably wide variety of produce without spray on 52 acres near their farm store at 329 Kelly Avenue. They also sell vine-ripe tomatoes and corn from a friend who grows it in Brentwood, and tree-ripened fruit from farms in Fresno and Modesto.
Shop at Andreotti's every Friday, Saturday and Sunday year-round. And, they are always open the day before a holiday.
Fizzy's recipe for English peas:
Buy LOTS of fresh peas, at least 2 pounds.
Make sure you have a bag to put the pods in.
Shell a pod of peas; eat immediately; repeat.
When your mom says you've had enough, immediately open at least two more pods so she has to let you finish them.
Louis Iocapi's suggestion for storing and serving peas and beans:
"Peas are a crop that is delicious fresh. If you buy them 3 weeks old, they are not going to be very flavorful.
"If you are going to keep English peas for any length of time, refrigerate them, because otherwise they dehydrate and get starchy and tasteless. Wet them down real quickly, put them in a paper bag, then refrigerate them. They'll maintain freshness for a week or so. Plastic makes them sweat and takes away some of their flavor."
Louis Iocapi's Tuscan Beans:
"We like Tuscan cooking. There's olive oil, garlic, and tomato sauce in nearly everything we eat."
Sauté the beans with some good olive oil, garlic, tomato sauce, and onion. Throw in a little bit of sausage, panchetta or bacon to give it a little extra flavor.
Terry Andreotti's Favorite Summer Meal:
Mix together to make a sauce: fresh basil, minced fresh garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Slice yellow squash, eggplant and portobello mushrooms into 1/4" slices. Dip the vegetables and mushrooms in the sauce. Grill just a minute on each side.
Spread olive oil on bread, serve the grilled produce as a sandwich with cheese, tomato and lettuce.
You can reach Joe Devlin and Emily Berk through their website at http://www.armadillosoft.com.