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
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.
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