The crisp texture and sweet taste of fresh peas embodies spring. Ancient peoples foraged for peas in the wild long before they were domesticated. Romans, however, believed fresh green peas were poisonous and had to be dried before they could be eaten. It wasn't until the time of King Louis XIV of France that a French gardener developed a green-pea hybrid known as petits pois. Fresh peas soon became the rage at the king's court and thereby quickly gained widespread popularity.
Types: Still a garden favorite, peas are one of the first vegetables that you'll plant and harvest in spring. There are extra-early, early, mid-season, and late types, taking 7 to 10 weeks to mature. Vining peas need trellises to grow on, while dwarf types need little or no support. Vining peas usually produce a heavier crop than do dwarfs.
Among green—or English—peas, there are wrinkled-seeded types and smooth-seeded types, both of which must be shelled. While wrinkled green peas are sweeter, smooth ones are hardier and better for super-early spring planting and for autumn and winter crops. If you've had problems with pea diseases, look for disease-resistant varieties such as 'Maestro'. If you want to can or freeze peas, choose a variety such as 'Dakota' that has a heavy and concentrated pod-setting period.
Snow peas and snap peas have edible pods. Snow peas produce flat pods that you can eat either raw or cooked. Snap peas are eaten either as young flat pods or after the peas have grown and are fat and juicy in the pods. Snow and snap peas are available in both vining and dwarf versions. New varieties of dwarf snow peas such as 'Snow Sweet' have pods that stay tender longer than traditional snow peas.
Some edible-podded cultivars have strings running down each pod that you must remove before eating; fortunately, "stringless" cultivars such as 'Sugar Spring' have been developed that eliminate this task. Edible-podded peas are perfect for stir-fries and other Asian dishes.
Field peas or cowpeas—which include black-eyed peas, crowder peas, and cream peas—are, botanically, beans. These plants thrive in areas with long, hot summers. See Beans for information on cultivating these crops.
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