Gorgeous, Sweet, Delicious: Heirloom Peas
I think I have fallen in love with peas.
I know it sounds silly, but look at them! In the shell, out of the shell, budding ruffled flowers in about any color you can imagine.
Peas are just the perfect vegetable.
Their perfumed blossoms make brilliant bouquets if you decide to cut a few stems to bring indoors. Brush past them for a whiff of honey and orange blossom.
A fruity, delicious scent.
And peas are great for your garden. As “feeder plants” these legumes feed the soil’s craving for nitrogen. In fact, if you move your peas around every year, you’ll nourish your whole garden amending your soil along the way.
Of course, what you really want to do is pop a few of the sweet, podded delicacies in your mouth. The little round balls—some wrinkled, some smooth, ignite anticipation for a whole new season of flavor excitement.
As if that’s not enough, peas have more protein than any other plant, with one cup of peas boasting more protein than two tablespoons of peanut butter—but hardly any fat.
Then there’s the eight vitamins and seven minerals. And peas are bursting with beta-carotene and fiber, and come loaded with phytonutrients including antioxidants, anti-inflammatory nutrients and coumestrol, which is known to lower risk of stomach cancer.
So, eat your peas.
Raw, cooked, mashed. There are simple recipes for every pea variety.
Check out Béatrice Peltre, food stylist, photographer, chef and blogger at La Tartine Gourmande, she has some simple recipes and gorgeous images you’ll want dive into. She has a cookbook due out this fall. Oh my.
If you live were there’s about six more weeks until last frost warning, there’s still time to plants peas.
In fact, with the exception of the Southern-type peas (Cowpeas, Black-Eyed Peas, Field Peas), peas will sprout when the soil is a cool 40 degrees, making them one of the first crops sowed directly in the soil when the ground is warm enough to work: In cold winter climates, that’s at least six weeks before last frost date; in more temperate climates where the ground doesn’t freeze, plant in the fall for spring blooms or February through mid-April.
Any gardener can grow peas, all you need is cool weather, rich, well-drained soil and at least three hours of sun or all-day, dappled shade. Peas are heavy producers, so grow just a few plants or you’ll be overrun in peas.
Trenches should be six inches wide, at least two inches deep, and two feet between new rows. Scatter seeds, cover and water. Dwarf varieties love containers or window boxes.
Keep peas moist until they sprout, then water as soil dries out. Once they reach a couple inches high, prepare a sturdy trellis and begin weaving peas in and out of your lattice, or build a teepee structure that doesn’t require a web of netting. Old stockings or rags make great ties.
Or, try the pea-brush method for staking your peas: Carefully insert fallen/just-pruned tree branches a few inches into the soil along the center of your pea row. Spread the brambles out evenly through the row and trim back tops. Vary trellis methods to create an interesting garden sculpture in your yard.
There are four types of peas available in either dwarf or climbing, and over 1,000 varieties. Generally, smooth-seeded peas tend to be starchier than the wrinkled varieties, which are sweeter and best eaten fresh, while the smooth peas make great soup.
All peas should be eaten when young and just-picked as they convert to starch immediately after harvest. If you can’t eat them right away or within an hour or two, blanche them to eat later, or freeze rather than leave them out to harden.
For all varieties:
• Look for pods when you see the flowers, and pick from bottom up as the ones at the base ripen first.
• Harvest in the morning when sugar content is highest.
Shelling and snap peas:
• should be plump and slightly firm, not too fat and tough
• outer shells should be bright green, not dull and waxy
Snap—eat entire sweet and crisp, pea-filled pod when pea is young and snaps like a green bean; pick daily or every-other day.
Snow—pick when still flat and empty of peas and eat when pea is young; pick daily or every-other day.
Shelling (English)—open up the pod for the tender, delicate peas inside; the shell is too stringy to eat.
Southern Peas (Cowpeas, Black-Eyed Peas, Field Peas)—these peas have little in common with garden peas, despite their name, and are closer related to beans. Southern peas became a staple for southerners in colonial times and are eaten like shelling peas; highly drought tolerant, they are best grown in warmer temperatures when soil is at least 60 degrees.
My friend Tim Mountz, local organic farmer and seed saver extraordinaire, sells heirloom peas (seeds and seedlings) on his Web site Happy Cat Organics and at area farmers’ markets. There are so many varieties, but here are a few he recommends:
Capucinar’s Blue Podded –This is a blue-podded pea that is great fresh in a salad or dried it soups.
Golden Sweet –A rare, podded pea featuring beautiful, bi-colored purple flowers and lemon-yellow pods great for stir frying or tossed into salads. Dried seeds are delicious for soups.
Dwarf Grey Sugar Pea – Tim says: “This pea just melts in your mouth with the deepest and truest pea flavor ever.” It’s an English heirloom introduced before 1773. This is an edible pod pea, but Tim also harvests the tendrils and the amazing purple flowers to eat. Sow again in July for fall peas.
BIT OF HISTORY
It is possible that peas are one of the earliest crops cultivated by humans, as archeologist unearthed evidence of peas around 7,000 BCE in Iraq. It appears that these peas were eaten dried, but by the time China began growing them, over 5,000 years ago, peas were bred to be eaten fresh, pod and all.