Peas are characterised in the UK by their small, round, green appearance and sweet flavour. They are high in some B vitamins, vitamin C, iron and protein. We often recognise only the immature fresh pea, whilst the dried seeds are often used in Indian cuisine.
Vegetable Origins & Varieties
Pea: Pisum sativum
Peas are an ancient food crop. They seem to be native to the eastern Mediterranean but a recent archaeological expedition reported finding peas near the Burma-Thailand border, carbon dated at approx. 9,750 BC. This is much earlier than the 3,000 BC of some found in a Bronze Age settlement in Switzerland. What is fairly certain is that the Romans brought peas to Britain.
Garden peas can be divided into either round-seeded or wrinkled (marrowfats). Round-seeded varieties like Meteor or Feltham First are hardy and can be sown in the autumn for a crop in May/June. Wrinkled varieties like Kelvedon Wonder or Early Onwards are sown in the spring for a summer crop. Soft pod varieties (Mangetout peas) like Sugar Snap can be eaten whole, pod and all.
Peas have the dubious honour of being the first vegetable to be canned and, later, deep-frozen. Recently, shorter bush varieties have been developed so that commercial farming can harvest entire fields at the same time. This is not very useful for small plot holders, so latterly the hunt has been on to find older strains that grow and crop over an extended period – try Ambassador, an old heritage variety that can grow to 2 metres plus, producing pods as it grows.
Growing Tips & Harvesting
Everything likes peas it seems – mice and pigeons especially, so we generally sow indoors and plant out when the plant is bigger.
Peas do best in a rich, loamy soil but one that has not had manure added recently as this produces rather more leaf rather than pods!
In crop rotation peas being a Legume come first; they amazingly add nitrogen to the soil. They do this by growing little (white) nodules on their roots that house atmospheric nitrogen-fixing bacteria - so never pull old plants out of the soil but cut them off at the base so that the nitrogen in the nodules can be released back into the bed.
Storing & Preparation
Peas do not last long once harvested so should be cooked within a few days, dried or frozen. They are usually boiled to break down the cell wall and bring out their sweetness. They can then be flavoured with butter, mint or lemon. Pod peas such as mangetout are often added to stir fries.
My Favourite Recipes:
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 85g/3oz fresh peas, podded
- 2 large handfuls spinach
- 300ml/½ pint hot vegetable stock
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add the onion and fry gently until softened. Add the garlic and fry for one minute.
Add the peas, spinach and hot stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for eight minutes, or until the peas are tender. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and blend until smooth.
To serve, pour into a bowl and garnish with chopped fresh chives and a drizzle of olive oil.
Peas are a great side vegetable, and work well in risottos and curries. They are often a favourite with children due to their sweet taste and yet are still a healthy vegetable.