Gardening: Peas in the pod

Every phenomenon, no matter how uniquely contemporary it might seem, can be found in the Torah, fast food included.

pea pods 88 (photo credit: )
pea pods 88
(photo credit: )
Every phenomenon, no matter how uniquely contemporary it might seem, can be found in the Torah, fast food included. Red lentils, which require only a few minutes to cook, take center stage in the famous encounter between Jacob and Esau. Isaac's twin sons are only teenagers at the time, but what happens between them will permanently affect their relationship, and predict the strife between Israel and the nations until today. Esau returns from an unsuccessful hunting expedition, frustrated and hungry, looking for food. Jacob is in the middle of preparing a red lentil soup and is exhorted by Esau to give it to him. Esau does not even care if the soup is fully done, and says he wants it na, a Hebrew word of entreaty that can also mean half-cooked. Jacob complies, but only after receiving Esau's birthright in exchange for the steaming dish. Jacob then pours the soup directly into Esau's wide open mouth. As fast as red lentils are turned into soup, it is not fast enough for Esau, and they disappear down his gullet even faster. Esau was definitely a fast food kind of person, someone whose behavior was controlled strictly by his appetites. Jacob had been preparing lentil soup for the meal of consolation that follows a burial, in this case that of his grandfather, Abraham, who had died the same day. Having no sensitivity towards the protocol surrounding his grandfather's death, Esau thought only of his own stomach. Red lentils, which look like small peas but number only two, and sometimes one, to the pod, are the easiest of the legumes to grow, demanding no special attention. They can produce a crop even when the soil is poor, requiring no water other than winter rain. Moreover, unlike legumes such as peas, peanuts and beans that need to be harvested at the right moment for maximum flavor, lentils can be completely ignored. Eventually, when they become hard inside their pods, they can be picked, although leaving them on the plant past hardening does not detract from their taste. In ancient times, lentils were considered the lowliest of foods. Not only were they simple to grow - a fact that tends to devalue any crop - but lentil plants only reached about a foot in height and, as the Talmud mentions, eating them caused bad breath. Their value at the post-burial meal was in what they represented. According to the Talmud, the lentil's round shape served as a reminder of the cycle of life, death and mourning all earthly creatures share; the smooth lentil's absence of an opening or mouth hinted that mourners should be silent. The dual significance of the lentil was lost on Esau. He could not be silent and demanded to be fed. Moreover, instead of mourning and contemplating the meaning of his grandfather's life, his only thoughts were of his own death. Esau had been brooding over his inability to live up to his birthright, or first born obligations, which involved performance of the sacrificial service in a sober condition. The punishment for faulty performance of these obligations was death. Esau had no trouble giving up a privilege that he saw as a life-threatening burden, especially when he could receive a bowl of hot soup as part of the bargain. Lentils and peas are best planted in the fall. They survive a frost without difficulty but if they can establish a strong root system before winter comes, they will yield more pods later on. They should not be fertilized with nitrogen, the principle ingredient in most fertilizers, because of a symbiosis they enjoy with beneficial soil bacteria. Rhizobium bacteria reside in legume root nodules, receiving carbohydrates translocated down from legume leaves; in return, the Rhizobium extract nitrogen from soil air and convert it to a form the plants can use. If you fertilize legumes with nitrogen, they will produce luxuriant vegetative growth but few, if any, pods. Because of their constant, bacteria-assisted assimilation of nitrogenous compounds, legumes are full of proteins, molecular chains of nitrogen-rich amino acids. Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) are the most delightful legumes to plant in this season for late winter and early spring enjoyment. Sweet pea flowers have a strong fragrance and are usually seen in pink, purple, blue, red and white. Loosen soil to a 10-inch depth before seeding, since sweet peas do best when their roots can grow deep. Give sweet peas full sun or they will develop a white mildewy fungus. Make sure you put up stakes or a support structure six feet in height prior to planting, since it is a real chore to do so once the plants are growing. If planted against a wall or fence, stretch horizontal lines of wire or twine, anchored by nails or screws or, alternatively, you can attach ready-made plastic netting to the side of your structure. Sweet pea varieties that grow in bush form do not require support.