Other Names: English peas, garden peas, pease (Old English), petit pois (France), piselli (Italy), sweet peas.

General Description: Peas (Pisum sativum) are members of the legume family that contain up to eight small green seeds lined up inside pods. Peas are one of the world’s oldest vegetables, but early varieties were starchy even when young. Both the Greeks and Romans cultivated shelling peas for drying. The word “pea” itself is a very old term; Greek, Italian, old Irish, French, and English share variations on the same word. Pease, the old English name for the pea, is actually a singular, not a plural form. Italian Renaissance gardeners first cultivated the sweet green pea. The people of Italy and France still celebrate spring by eating sweet young peas.

Garden or English peas are the familiar “peas in a pod.” Their parchmentlike pods are too stringy to eat, though they may be added to a soup broth for flavor. They are at their best when as small as possible, usually early in spring.

Sugar snap and snow peas are both types of sugar peas: peas with tender, edible pods. Sugar snap peas resemble English peas but have smaller, smooth, curved pods, and they are eaten whole. The common assumption is that snow peas are an Asian vegetable, but they were probably first cultivated in Holland and were originally known as Dutch peas.

Pea tendrils are the furling, tender leaves and shoots of young pea plants. They are sweet and tender with a strong pea taste.

Season: Sweet young peas are at their best in May, though they are available from February through September. Sugar snap and snow peas are found year-round. Pea tendrils are best in the spring.

Purchase: Choose garden peas with pods that are bright green and velvety to the touch, filled with pearl-shaped peas that barely fill their pod. Look for barely discernible miniature peas inside snow peas. Snow peas should be light green in color. Snap peas should be brilliant green in color and smooth with no breaks or cuts and have the same smooth, firm skin as snow peas.

Avoid: Stay away from overgrown, starchy peas that are flattened against each other, resembling teeth. Avoid immature peas that are flat, dark green, and wilted or overgrown peas that are swollen and flecked with gray specks. A yellowish color indicates age or damage. Avoid water-soaked pods or any that show mildew.

Inspect snow peas for small circles of rot, a sign that they are deteriorating. Avoid overgrown sugar snap peas with visible peas bulging out, or pods with breakage, white patches, or soft or moldy tips.

Storage: For the ultimate in sweet succulence, eat peas just after they’re picked. But don’t despair if this isn’t possible; peas will maintain almost all of their sweetness for 3 to 4 days if they’re placed in a closed plastic bag and refrigerated. Store sugar snaps, snow peas, and pea tendrils in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.


Shell Peas:
Pop open the pods and remove the peas.

Sugar Snaps and Snow Peas:
Hold the pod just below the stem, between the thumb and forefinger, and break back the stem end. Grasp the tip of the stem and pull it down parallel to the pod to remove the stem and strings on either side of the pod.

Pea Tendrils:
Trim away any large stems and rinse.

Serving Suggestions: Cook peas for just a few minutes with sliced spring onions and shredded butter lettuce for a traditional French spring dish. Add snow peas to Chinese stir-fry. Add sugar snap peas to a crudités platter. Stir-fry pea tendrils in hot oil with salt, garlic, and a splash of sherry or rice wine until they are wilted.

Flavor Affinities: Artichokes, chervil, chives, crabmeat, lettuce, mint, salmon, scallions, scallops, shad, shrimp, sorrel, tarragon.

from Quirk Books: