Peas the Wonderful Legumes

Peas are an ancient vegetable from the Mediterranean and Central Asia. Peas dating from 7,000 B.C. were found in Egyptian tombs and the Bible reports that they were one of the foods brought to David in the desert.

Fresh peas as we know them were developed in Holland. They were such a sensation in the court of Louis the Fourteenth that poems and songs were written praising them.

Thomas Jefferson’s gardener-chef James Hemings grew 30 varieties. U.S. President Andrew Jackson's favorite dish was Pease Pudding with onions, carrots, celery, butter, nutmeg, sour cream, and sugar.

Peas are actually legumes or beans. Today over 1,000 varieties are grown.

Legumes from Europe and Southwest Asia include peas, chickpeas and lentils. India and East Asia gave us Soybeans, Azuki and Mung beans. Black-eyed peas are from Africa and Peanuts and Butterbeans are from South America.

English peas (Pisum sativum) are either smooth or wrinkled, with the smooth having more starch and the wrinkled being sweeter. Smooth seed peas like Cowpeas are usually used like dry beans in soup and stew.

Sixteenth Century English children ate pea porridge so often the poem, “Pease porridge hot, Pease porridge cold, Pease porridge in the pot Nine days old” was written to show how tired of them they were.

Wrinkled English peas are removed from the pod at harvest. Snap peas are harvested while the pods are still tender and before the peas inside become large.

Chinese or Snow peas are Pisum sativum macrocarpum and Sugar Snap Peas are across between Snow Peas and English Green Peas

If you have garden space or a pot with a trellis where peas could be planted, choose a wrinkled seed variety that resists fusarium wilt. They mature 60 days after planting.

Plant a fall crop of peas as an edible green manure cover crop. Planted in wide rows, one inch apart, they grow weed free. Pea plants pull nitrogen into their roots and stems. After harvest, and before the plants die, dig the vines and leaves into the ground to improve the soil for next year’s garden.

One of the heat tolerant peas to plant this time of year is Wando, available at Sunburst Seeds, 1815 North Street in Muskogee, 918.687.0548.

Plant seeds in prepared soil at 1 to 1.5 inches deep and one inch apart. Barbara Damrosch recommends planting fall peas in a 4-inch deep trench and filling in the trench as they grow ( Using an innoculant is said to increase the fall harvest.

The seeds should not come in direct contact with fertilizer. English peas can be trained up a trellis or allowed to sprawl. Snap peas grow 6 feet and more; a fence, brush pile or trellis keeps them off the ground.

Harvest English peas when the pods are round. Two harvests can be made.

Harvest Sugar Snap Peas every two days, beginning one week after flowering. If some are left behind and discovered later, they can be cooked like English peas.

The health benefits of one half-cup peas include 4 grams of protein, about as much as an egg. Plus they provide folic acid, vitamin A and iron. Snow or Sugar Snap peas have 2.6 grams protein, vitamin C and Potassium (

Stir-fry Sugar Snap Peapods with peanut oil, portabella mushrooms, soy sauce and toasted sesame seeds. Or, serve as raw snacks with or without a dip.

English peas with lettuce: Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a 3-quart saucepan. Add 2-cups chopped Iceberg lettuce. When warm add 2-cups peas, one-fourth cup chopped green onion or shallots, one-fourth teaspoon marjoram, one-Tablespoon chopped parsley, 2 teaspoons sugar and 1-teaspoon salt. Simmer 10 minutes. Serve with a tablespoon of butter.


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