About Peas

Peas

Fresh peas are wonderful - try tasting them raw, straight from the pod. Unfortunately, the season for garden peas is short, and frozen peas, which are the next best thing, never quite come up to the mark. If you grow your own peas, for three or four weeks in early summer, you can eat like kings; otherwise you can buy them from a good greengrocer, whom may be able to keep you supplied all through the early summer.

History : Peas have an even longer history than broad beans, with archaeological evidence showing they were cultivated as long ago as 5700 BC. High in protein and carbohydrate, they would have been another important staple food and were eaten fresh or dried for soups or potage. Pease porridge is mentioned in a Greek play written in 5 BC. Pease pudding, probably something similar, made with split peas with onion and herbs, is an old-fashioned but still very popular dish, especially in the north of England, traditionally eaten with ham and pork.

Varieties -

Mangetouts: These are eaten whole and have a delicate flavor, providing they are not overcooked. Unfortunately, they are easy to overcook and the texture then becomes rather slippery. Alternatively, blanch or stir-fry them. They are also good served raw in salads.

Petis Pois : These are not, as you might expect, immature peas but are a dwarf variety. Gardeners grow their own, but they are not available fresh in the shops as they are mainly grown commercially for canning or freezing.

Snow Peas, Sugar Peas, Sugar Snaps : These have the distinct fresh flavor of raw peas and are more plump and have more snap than mangetouts.

Buying and Storing : Only buy fresh peas; if they are old they are bound to be disappointing and you would be better off buying them frozen. In top condition, the pods are bright green and lively looking; the more withered the pod, the longer they have been hanging around. It is possible to surreptitiously sample peas on occasions, to check if they are fresh (greengrocers don't seem to mind if you buy some). Use fresh peas as soon as possible.

Preparing : Shelling peas can be very relaxing. Press open the pods and use your thumb to push out the peas. mangetouts and sugar snaps just need to be topped and tailed.

Cooking : Cook peas with a sprig of mint in a pan of rapidly boiling water or in a covered steamer until tender. Alternatively, melt butter in a flameproof casserole, add the peas and then cover and sweat over a gently heat for 4-5 minutes. Cook mangetouts and sugar snaps in any of the same ways but for a shorter time.

More Vegetables Guide

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