Peas are one of my all time favourite vegetables. Best freshly picked and put straight into one’s mouth. Their sweet flavour is so hard to resist, just thinking about it makes me want to munch on some.
Peas are world’s oldest vegetable, it’s been found in Stone Age settlements of around 8000 years old. They belong to the Fabaceae family of plants which makes it a legume; the edible seed inside a pod is a pulse, although these terms are used interchangebly. Just to complicate things even more, botanically speaking, pea pod is a fruit, as it contains seeds, and develops from an ovary of a flower.
Peas are broadly divided into several groups with different varieties within the groups. There are the traditional garden peas or English peas that are eaten without the pods raw or cooked.
Then there are the two main types that are eaten with pods and together known as mange-tout (from French ‘eat all’). These are snow peas which are harvested when their pods and seeds are immature and flat. The second of the mange-tout variety is the snap peas, also called the sugar peas, or the sugar snap peas which develop a fuller pod and bigger seeds but are also eaten in its entirety including the pod. However, if you let them mature, they can be used just the same way as the garden peas.
Lastly there are the field peas, that are usually grown for drying and are eaten as split peas which are not as fresh tasting as garden peas.
Petit pois, are the same garden peas but harvested earlier, before they reach maturity.
Cooking and eating
Once peas are harvested their sugars rapidly turn into starch, and it’s difficult to preserve their flavour and nutrition. This is why frozen peas from the shop are thought to be better in flavour and nourishment as they’ve undergone the process of blanching and freezing soon after harvest.
The garden peas are best freshly picked and eaten raw. The frozen or more mature peas are great in soups and purees. Pea pods can be simmered and used as a foundation for a pea soup or other summer-themed soups. You may also puree them, but you might need to use a sieve to get rid of strings and papery linings.
Mangetout peas don’t need much doing to them. If they are young, just top and tail them and add them to salads raw, or eat as a snack on their own. The more mature ones would need stringing and then steaming, boiling or stir frying.
You can also eat pea flowers that predictably have pea flavour. They are a great addition to summary salads.