Spring produce season doesn’t really kick off for me until I see the sprightly-green shelling peas at the farmer’s market. Piled high and begging to be plucked from their pods and nibbled, I love that table, groaning with possibilities. Ah, sweet, sweet English peas.
While peapods are botanically a fruit since they carry seeds (peas) from the ovary of the flower, they are regarded as a vegetable in culinary uses. Peas are a cool weather crop with planting taking place in winter or early spring and harvest soon after. In ancient times, peas were grown for their dried seeds. In modern times; peas are served fresh and can also be found frozen and canned. In the 17 and 18th centuries, eating peas was very fashionable and when the English developed new cultivars of peas and the pea trend came to North America, they became known as English peas. Thomas Jefferson had more than 30 varieties of peas growing on his estate. When canning and freezing became popular, peas were eaten year round and not just in the spring.
Similar to shelling peas or English peas are a variety of sweet peas or flat peas that are not shelled and the entire pod is eaten. Those are sugar snap and snow peas.
Peas play an important role in cuisines around the world as they are high in fiber, protein, minerals, vitamins and lutein.
English Peas are easily found at Farmer’s markets in late spring and early summer. They are also found in many specialty produce markets. Store your English peas in the refrigerator for a day or two. If you need to freeze them, shell the peas, blanch and shock them and freeze for up to 6 months.