Peas, mangetout, broad beans and sugar snaps really come into their own now. Tom Norrington-Davies thinks they’re the peas de résistance.
Do you remember this gloriously silly rhyme? My father recited it every time peas appeared on the dinner table:
I eat my peas with honey;
I’ve done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny
but it keeps them on the knife.
I’ve always preferred to eat peas with a spoon. I’d use a trowel if I didn’t think it would look greedy, as I can’t get enough of them. My family ate lots of peas. If I were a proper food writer I’d now start waxing lyrical about how my parents grew them; how my brother, sister and I would lurk among the vines, stuffing peas straight from the pod into our mouths and delighting in their natural, rustic sweetness before rushing off to the asparagus patch to do the same thing, blah blah blah!
Does anyone else get a bit miffed when foodies start talking like this or am I just a bit of a miserable old townie? Not being one of the Famous Five, I grew up on frozen peas. For readers of Allotment Which?, this probably amounts to a deprived childhood but, as it turns out, the frozen pea is a very fine thing in its own right. Here comes the science bit...
People rave about peas and broad beans eaten straight from the vine because the high concentration of natural sugars starts turning to starch as soon as they are picked. Within a day or so, they are well on the way to becoming ‘mealy’ – you’ll know what I mean if you have ever shelled fresh peas and found wrinkly specimens within. Instantly blast-freezing a fresh pea slows this process to a near halt, and many firms do this within hours of picking. I still use frozen peas year round – they remind me of the summer when it is cold and grey.
It is well worth looking for fresh peas in season. If you find them, ask how long they have been off the vine. If they are good, buy as many as you can carry and feast on them for as long as it takes – or freeze your own. Peas from the pod are a delicious nibble. Ask Fergus Henderson of St. John in London, who serves them this way as a starter at the height of their season.
The pea season is not long, and for this reason mangetout or snow peas were once a delicacy. So ubiquitous are the imports now that I failed to find any British mangetout in the supermarkets last summer, which I guess means the truly fresh specimens are still a luxury item.
But look out for what might be my latest craze: the snow pea shoot, which has small, rounded leaves, a tender stem, and is great thrown into salads. Try one on its own and the unmistakable sweetness of a pea will be on the tip of your tongue. Look for them at an oriental food shop – supermarkets are just starting to stock them.
You can use peas, mangetout (snow peas), broad beans and sugar snaps interchangeably in the following recipes, and mix and match accordingly.
All weights are for shelled peas and podded beans. If you are using frozen peas or beans, thaw them out before using.