The pleasure of peas

The following extract comes from my latest book The Great British Vegetable Cookbook (see Books). For Pea Fritatta, go to the Cook Now section. 

One of the great pleasures of childhood is raiding the pea patch.  Few things taste as good as illicitly picked garden peas on a hot summer’s day.  Bending down amongst the rustling plants, the stems squeak as you snap off plump, succulent pods.  Under the nets, such peas taste sweeter than sugar and far better than any cooked meal.  

The flavour of garden peas defines British culinary taste – pure, simple and sweet, peas need little work to make them taste heavenly: a pat of butter, a hint of mint or a little bacon.  Our modern idea of peas is based on tender garden peas, which can be round or wrinkled, the latter being sweeter but less hardy.  Yet, for 2,500 years, we’ve grown countless different types - field peas were found at an early Iron Age site in Glastonbury.  Our ancestors grew starchy peas that could be dried for the winter months, hence pea soup, pease pudding and mushy peas.   

Fresh (climbing) garden peas were grown in Tudor times, but only became widely available to cooks in the seventeenth century.  Imagine the social torture of being served such delicacies and being unable to spear them on your two pronged fork!


*  450g/1lb fresh peas (in their pods) yield about 185g/6 ½ oz shelled peas – depending on the size of the peas.  Allow 400g/14oz shelled peas for 4 people or about 1kg/2lb 3oz peas in their pods.

*  As soon as peas are picked they start to convert their sugar into starch becoming less sweet and more mealy, so use quickly after picking or purchase. 

*  Mangetout (snow peas) and sugar snap peas are pea cultivators that have not developed the stiff papery inner parchment of their pods, so can be eaten whole.  Top and tail as required.

*  Pea shoots are pea sprouts snipped from their seed.  They add a sweet pea-like flavour to salads and stir-fries.

  Culinary notes

*  The intense sweetness of peas is increased when they’re combined with umami-tasting ingredients, such as bacon, caramelised onion, strong hard cheese, prawns, scallops, lobster, stock, tomato-based sauces, roast fowl and meat.

*  Peas benefit from the addition of herbs and spices, in particular, ginger, garlic, chilli, coriander, mint and basil, as well as turmeric, cumin and dried coriander. 

*  They are particularly delicious when combined with cream, crème fraiche and/or eggs – for example, puréed into a soufflé or baked whole in a savoury cheese tart or frittata. 


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