Introduction and description
A pea is the small spherical seed or the seed-pod of the pod fruit Pisum sativum. Peas can refer to the seed pod, the seed and the plant. Peas can be eaten fresh, boiled, stir fried, or raw and they can be frozen, dried or canned.
Pea grading involves sorting peas by size, in which the smallest peas are graded as the highest quality for their tenderness. For those of us who had holiday jobs in order to keep ourselves afloat financially at university, the job of pea grader in the canning factories of the Fens became legendary in the 1960s [before automation]. Many an hallucination was recalled from watching peas all day to make sure they were up to scratch and many a fairy has danced over the conveyor belt in the late shifts. The pea fairy is apparently very pretty, half way between an elf and the sort of fairy Cicely Mary Barker might have drawn.
Description and distribution
The native wild pea is restricted to the Mediterranean basin and the Near East. The earliest archaeological finds of peas date from the late neolithic era of current Greece, Syria, Turkey and Jordan. In Egypt, early finds date from ca. 4800–4400 BC in the Nile delta area, and from ca. 3800–3600 BC in Upper Egypt. It is now, however, a cool-season crop grown in many parts of the world.
New cultivars of peas were developed by the English during the 17th and 18th centuries. At about this time the growing of peas spread to North America. Thomas Jefferson grew more than 30 cultivars of peas on his estate, which rather indicates we could have lost many of the old varieties.
This said a small number of ‘heritage’ varieties still exist and are very popular with allotment holders and amateur gardeners because they taste so good.
P. sativum is a small 1 to 2 metre high climbing plant. There are dwarf varieties which grow to an average height of about 1m. Extra dwarf are suitable for container growing, reaching only about 25 cm. Semi-tall reaches about 1.5m and tall grows to about 2m.
- Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon is commonly known as the snow pea.
- Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon ser. cv. is known as the sugar or snap pea.
The peas themselves can be green or yellow, and the flowers can be a variety of colours - purple, white mauve, even pink. The flowers are pretty, resembling [as one would expect] the sweat pea flower. Pea plants are self pollinating. The leaves are delicate and green, and the pods themselves can be green or even purple.
Medicinal uses and nutrient content
The health benefits derived from eating peas should be apparent from the enormous number of observations we have of all the illnesses they can help with. In the Middle Ages, field peas were constantly mentioned, as they were the staple that kept famine at bay.
Peas are high in fibre, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin K, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc and lutein. Dry weight is about one-quarter protein and one-quarter sugar. The selenium in some peas helps in the chelation of heavy metal such as lead.
An observation is provided showing all the Nutrient content.
According to Dr Duke’s phytochemical database peas have well over 720 medicinal activities and uses, thus any form of summary is impossible here. We have provided a snapshot from Dr Duke’s database to give you some idea, but we recommend you search out the entry on his database for the full and up-to-date list.
P. sativum is an annual plant. It is capable of being succession sowed, that is the peas [seeds] can by planted from winter to early summer. The soil must be free draining, but moist and fairly rich. Soil enriched with well rotted manure and compost is ideal.
The seeds may be planted as soon as the soil temperature reaches 10 °C (50 °F), with the plants growing best at temperatures of 13 to 18 °C (55 to 64 °F). They do not thrive in the summer heat of warmer temperate and lowland tropical climates, but do grow well in cooler, high altitude, tropical areas. Many cultivars reach maturity about 60 days after planting.
Just about every little creature known to man likes pea shoots and peas, from mice to squirrels, birds to slugs and snails, as such it is best to start them in protected pots [or in a gutter that can be planted out as a row]. If all you want is the pea shoots, they can be left on the gutter and harvested from this.
The peas grown by amateurs are called vining cultivars, meaning they cling to supports using tendrils. My dad used to keep a supply of pea sticks for this purpose – the trimmings from bushes he had thinned or cut back. Anything will do that has branches and is reasonably sturdy. You make a wigwam or row of the sticks and plant the baby pea plants on the outside of the wigwam for them to climb up.
Peas can suffer from powdery mildew if grown in poor soils, too closely spaced, with erratic water supply that weakens the plant.
The pea leaf weevil is native to Europe, but has spread to other places. They are about 3.5 millimetres (0.14 in)—5.5 millimetres (0.22 in) long and are distinguishable by three light-coloured stripes running length-wise down the thorax. The weevil larvae feed on the root nodules of pea plants, which are essential to the plants' supply of nitrogen, and thus diminish leaf and stem growth. Adult weevils feed on the leaves and create a notched, "c-shaped" appearance on the outside of the leaves.
Peas, like many legumes, contain symbiotic bacteria called Rhizobia within root nodules of their root systems. These bacteria have the special ability of fixing nitrogen from atmospheric, molecular nitrogen (N2). The root nodules are sources of nitrogen for the peas. You should thus NEVER pull up a pea plant once it has finished producing peas. Instead leave it to die down naturally.
When a pea plant dies naturally, following the harvest, all of its remaining nitrogen, incorporated into amino acids inside the remaining plant parts, is released back into the soil. In the soil, the amino acids are converted to nitrate (NO3−), making the nitrogen available to other plants, thereby serving as fertilizer for future crops.
If, as you should be doing, you use a rotation system for the crops in your kitchen garden, or allotment, you can see that the next crop to be grown on the areas on which the peas were grown can then be nitrogen loving and you will have no need for artificial fertilisers.
Peas are an enormously versatile vegetable. The various ways in which peas can be served are:
- Podded peas eaten fresh – raw, steamed or boiled. Cooking helps make the nutrients more available. In India, fresh peas are used in various dishes such as aloo matar (curried potatoes with peas) or matar paneer (paneer cheese with peas).
- Frozen peas – peas are one vegetable that does not suffer from being frozen. Small peas – the petits pois – are often as sweet as one can get from your own garden. Interestingly, peas in the pod bought from a shop rarely taste as sweet as frozen peas because the frozen food processors seem to be very efficient at picking, podding, blanching and freezing them in the factory. Many factories in the UK are quite close to the growing areas. The conversion of the sugars to starch takes place quite quickly with peas, so in shops peas in the pod that are only a few days old can be quite starchy. This means that frozen peas are often tastier, being sweeter and more tender.
- Pea shoots – the very tips of the pea shoots eaten fresh in or as a salad. There are recipes appearing that stir fry them, but they are so nice raw, that I can’t see the point of cooking them and losing that lovely fresh crisp pea taste
- Mushy peas – these do come canned, but are occasionally luridly coloured and contain somewhat suspect preservatives. Be selective in choosing your can! But you can cook your own. Marrowfat peas are essentially mature dried peas, see recipe below.
If you are using fresh or frozen peas, peas, cream, mint and tarragon all complement each other, but there is a danger with peas that you lose the sheer joy and some of the nutritional value of eating peas by complicating the recipe. Eaten with meat such as duck, beef, chicken or lamb, or with fish, they are best not complicated in any way.
But they can form the foundation of some very tasty vegetarian meals, especially when added to pasta. And they can be added to rice dishes just before the end of cooking, so that they retain their nutrients and bright green colour. Thus you will find peas added to paella and the classic dish risi e bisi [pea risotto with parmesan].
Fish, chips and mushy peas, here served with lemon, best served with malt vinegar
Marrowfat peas are green mature peas that have been allowed to dry out naturally in the field, rather than be harvested whilst still young like the normal garden pea. The pods in this case are usually dry and shrivelled and the peas hard. They are used to make mushy peas and also the snack food wasabi peas.
To serve 4 people, take 450g/6oz marrowfat peas, and soak in cold water overnight. Drain the peas and rinse well under running water. Place the peas into a large, lidded saucepan, cover with 600ml water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat until the mixture is simmering, cover the pan with a lid, then simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until tender. Remove the lid and continue to cook until most of the water has evaporated and the peas are very soft.
Drain off any excess water from the cooked peas, then add butter to taste, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Lemon juice may also be added or malt vinegar to provide a slightly sweet/sour taste.
These can be served with boiled ham, battered fish, grilled fish, fried fish, fish cakes, and pies [like beef and ale pie]. If made into a sort of cake shape with a well in the middle, an egg can be dropped into the well and they can be baked in the oven, then smothered with a rich cheese sauce simply made using warm double cream combined with a lot of grated cheddar cheese.
Vegetarian pease pudding
Pease pudding is traditionally made with ham stock, occasionally the split peas are cooked with the ham, but this is for vegetarians. If you have an Aga or similar this is a perfect dish to be left in the bottom oven for a few hours.
200g yellow split peas, soaked overnight in plenty of water
Drain and rinse the split peas. Put in a large casserole dish with the water. Bring to a fast simmer. A white foamy scum will float to the top, skim this off. Stir in the bouillon powder or stock cube.
This can be eaten plain. But you can also ring the changes depending on what it accompanies. To this can be added roasted cumin seeds, for example, or it can be topped with fried crispy onion. It goes well with pickles, chutneys and pickled vegetables. It has also been served with faggots [a type of meatball]. Pease pudding was once a staple of medieval cuisine, although their portion control sounds suspect.
Pease pudding hot
Pease pudding cold
Pease pudding in the pot
Nine days old!
other sorts of pasta also work well with the following recipe
Jamie Oliver’s Pea and Mint Tagliatelle
½ wineglass white wine
½ wineglass water
2 good knobs butter
1 handful fresh mint leaves
4 good handfuls peas
Coarsely grated parmesan cheese
Boil the tagliatelle in plenty of water according to packet instructions.
Meanwhile, whether you are using fresh or frozen peas, put the peas into a wide frying pan or casserole-type pan which has a lid, with the wine, water and butter. Place the lid on top and bring to the boil, then remove the lid and simmer for a minute or two while you finely slice a handful of mint leaves. With this reasonably small amount of liquid, the butter and wine should form a simple sauce. Stir the mint in just before serving.
Drain the pasta, mix with the pea sauce and sprinkle with the parmesan cheese.
Peas , penne, broad beans, crispy bacon and courgettes
Penne with peas and beans
Cooked chopped crispy bacon can also be added to this pasta dish
350g/12oz wholewheat penne
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 spring onions, finely chopped
200g/7oz reduced-fat mascarpone cheese
4 tbsp lemon juice
400g/14oz frozen peas, thawed
400g/14oz frozen baby broad beans, thawed
1 small bunch of basil, roughly chopped, a few leaves reserved for garnish
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cook the penne in a large saucepan of boiling water for 10-12 minutes, or until al dente.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium-low heat, add the spring onions and fry for ½ minute or until softened. Stir in the mascarpone, lemon juice, peas, broad beans and basil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir for 1-2 minutes or until bubbling.
Drain the penne, reserving a little of the cooking water. Stir the pasta into the peas and beans. Add a little of the pasta cooking water, if needed, to loosen the mixture. Garnish with basil and serve.
Chopped ham can be added to the salad for any non vegetarians
110g/4oz frozen peas
2 tbsp double cream
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 free-range egg yolks
85g/3oz Manchego cheese, grated
2 spring onions, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
butter, for greasing
cornflour or polenta, for dusting
3 free-range egg whites
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
Boil the peas for 1-2 minutes until defrosted. Drain and transfer to a food processor.
Add the double cream, mustard, egg yolks, cheese and spring onions and blend until smooth. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Lightly grease a small ovenproof dish or pan with butter and dust with cornflour/polenta.
In a clean, grease-free bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form when the whisk is removed. Stir one third of the egg white into the pea mixture to loosen it, then gently fold the remaining egg white into the pea mixture until well combined.
Spoon into the prepared dish, transfer to the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until well risen and golden-brown.
Serve immediately. A salad of pea shoots goes well with this
Grilled scallops with chorizo on mashed pea puree
Creamed pea, garlic and coriander soup
This can be placed in a food processor when cold to make a smooth soup. It can then be served warm or cold with a generous dollop of sour cream as a garnish.
½ onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
85g/3oz fresh or frozen peas
50ml/2fl oz white wine
75ml/2½fl oz double cream
1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the butter in a frying pan and gently fry the onion and garlic for 4-5 minutes.
Stir in the fresh herbs and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
To serve, pour the soup into a serving bowl.
Chick pea salad, with pea shoots and coriander
The same recipe works with cooked lentils, for example, puy lentils and is just as nice. The dressing is deliberately ‘light’ because of the delicacy of the pea shoots.
1 can drained chick peas
200g frozen peas, boiled until tender
8 spears asparagus
a small bunch of coriander
3 tbsp plus of extra olive oil
1 tbsp lime juice
80g pea shoots
Boil the asparagus until tender.
Warm the chickpeas through in hot water but do not cook further. Drain, place in a warm salad bowl and stir in a little olive oil.
Drain the peas, add to the bowl. Drain the asparagus add to the bowl.
Whisk remaining olive oil and lime juice together then add to bowl.
Just before serving, pull the coriander leaves from their stalks but keep them whole, and fold them gently into the mixture.
Rinse the pea shoots and toss them gently with salad, serve immediately.
Pea shoot, Peach, Strawberry and walnut salad
Pea shoot, mango and chicken salad
Fresh peaches can be used instead of mangoes and this recipe also works well with duck instead of chicken.
2 Smoked Chicken Breasts or 2 Chargrilled Chicken Breasts
50g Pea Shoots (1 bag)
4 Spring Onions
2 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Slice the chicken breasts thinly, then cut the mango into similar sized pieces. Peel and thinly slice the cucumber. Finely chop the spring onions.
Juice the lemon, then combine thoroughly with the olive oil to make the dressing.
Place the pea shoots onto plates, then add the chicken, mango, cucumber and spring onions. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and then drizzle with the dressing just before serving.
Warmed Brie and pea shoot salad
Any soft cheese with an edible rind would work well here including such delicious cheeses as the Tunworth cheese. This can be served with a crusty bread to soak up the cheese and juices.
200ml Balsamic Vinegar
2 tbsp Honey
100g Pea Shoots (2 bags)
Place the cheese in a medium preheated oven to warm through
Put the balsamic vinegar and honey into a small saucepan. Place over a low heat and reduce until ½ its original volume. Then leave to cool for 15 minutes which will produce a thick dressing.
Peel and thinly slice the cucumber. De-hull the strawberries and slice thinly.
Arrange the pea shoots, the cucumber and strawberries on a serving plates and lightly season with salt and pepper.
Place warmed cheese in centre of plate and drizzle salad with the balsamic reduction just before serving.
References and further reading
An interesting website that provides a great many more recipes for pea shoots can be found at this LINK
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