JUNE – PEAS
We are half way through the year and the pea season is now upon us! If you think the first broad beans are a treat, then you will be blown away by peas fresh from the pod! No cooking required!
Peas are such a treat for me and I love watching the pods develop and fill out. Getting a decent pea harvest every year is quite a challenge for us due to the large number of pests that can ravage the crop but when it’s successful it’s totally worth it!
Image Credit: OutOfMyShed.co.uk
Peas (Pisum sativum – literally means ‘cultivated pea’) is a name that can be applied to many different peas in the wider family such a ‘pigeon peas’ but for the sake of this article, I am talking about our common garden pea. It is not just the pea seed inside that can be eaten, the pods can be eaten too and some varieties are specifically grown with eating the pods in mind such as ‘sugar snap’ peas and ‘snow pea’ varieties (we refer to them as mange-tout in this country). Each plant produces numerous pods filled with 6-8 individual peas. They are a climbing crop and use tendrils to wrap around supports such as the traditionally used ‘pea sticks’ in cultivation. Peas are a cool season crop which may explain why they can thrive in our spring/summer climate but the wild pea, from which our cultivated one comes from, is found in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
A short history of Peas
Archaeological evidence suggests that peas have been eaten and cultivated since neolithic times, as early as 4800-4400 B.C. They have been a staple in human diets ever since and were of special significance in medieval times to keep famine at bay. Peas used to be grown for their dry seeds and fresh garden peas, like what we eat today, was an innovative luxury of the 17th century but by the end of the 17th/early 18th century it become popular to eat peas green and from there the garden pea was born. Along with the inventions of canning and freezing, green, garden peas became a staple all year long!
Why should we eat peas?
Peas contain starch and sugar which gives that lovely sweet taste but they also contain good levels of Vitamin K, which is thought to be beneficial for good heart and bone health. They also contain B and C vitamins which are important in cardiovascular health and for a strong immune system. Peas contain manganese, an important mineral essential for development and metabolism, and they are a source of dietary fibre.
They are very low in fat (only 0.4g per 100g of peas) but the fats they do contain are high in poly- and mono- unsaturated fats, all super healthy for you! They are also an excellent source of protein.
Peas also contain a number of phyto-nutrients which give good anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and one study even suggests it might have a role in protection against stomach cancer! Other studies have suggested a link with pea consumption and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
How to grow peas
Peas, like potatoes, can be grouped as first earlies, second earlies and maincrop. This relates to how quickly they mature. Peas don’t like root disturbance so where possible you should either sow them directly or preferably in root trainers. I myself sow them in egg cartons where I can then break the individuals sections of the egg cartons off and plant them whole in the ground. The egg carton decomposes and the peas carry on like nothings happened.
Peas can be sown from February until June (and Oct-Nov for autumn sown peas). Successive sowing helps to ensure a longer supply of peas. If sown directly, a shallow trench should be dug and pea seeds should be spaced 5-7 cm apart and 3-5cm deep into well prepared soil. Peas will rot in soggy cold ground so ensure that the soil is warm and well-draining. Peas require support as they grow, pea sticks or netting is ideal for their tendrils to twist around.
Pea and bean weevil can be a problem on young plants, the adults nibbling the edges of the leaves leaving little notches. Pigeons love to eat the shoots and can strip the tender plant if not protected and mice will nibble the sown seeds if they can get to it so make sure that plants are protected where possible. My main problem, though, is pea moth. The moth lays its eggs on the flowers and the larvae burrow into the pod and eat the peas.
How to cook peas
Peas can be eaten fresh out of the pod when they are young but if you prefer them to be cooked they are easily boiled or steamed for a few minutes. The pods themselves, are also packed full of goodness so we often boil the empty pods in stocks when making risottos – that way all the vitaminy goodness goes into the risotto!
Pea shoots are also delicious added to a salad or as a garnish! I often sow a tray full of peas just to use as pea shoots!