Growing Fresh Peas
One of the season's most fleeting treats, fresh peas, with their tender tendrils, are a sweet revelation.
Thoughts of wrinkled peas usually cause wrinkled noses. Just like a minivan full of kids on a cross-country trip, peas lose their sweetness by their journey's end. As with corn, the sugars in peas begin turning to starch the moment you pluck the pod from the vine. That's why most folks just buy frozen and never know how amazingly sweet a fresh-picked pea can be.
Here you see plump Tom Thumb pea pods swelling on the vine.
Plant in the cool season of spring and fall in the most of the country. Peas are the first seeds sown before winter fully thaws, when daffodils bloom or on St. Patrick's Day. They prefer colder weather, twirl tendrils of self-support as they climb and grow, and feed themselves and neighboring soil by capturing nitrogen from the air.
All types require about two months of growth from the time seeds are sown until the first peas are ready to picked. That means planting about a month before the last spring frost so there will be time to enjoy a long harvest before the days start to get hot. Peas grow on vines that need a trellis, even if it’s a tepee made of bamboo and twine or a section of metal fencing. Select a sunny site, and push seeds into a well-prepared soil about 1 inch deep and 2 to 3 inches apart.
If possible, cook and eat fresh peas immediately. To keep them as sweet as you can for as long as you can after picking, keep your harvests cool. Shell, blanch, and freeze what you don't use immediately. If buying fresh from a local market, pop a few in your mouth before purchasing to test the sweetness level. Wait to shell peas just before you cook them.
Every part of the plant is edible, and tasty at that. Young shoots eaten raw or tossed in a stir-fry lend a bright, slight pea flavor. Young, immature pods of some varieties can be eaten whole. Even the white or violet blooms are edible. But the plump, sugar-sweet, faintly grassy peas are the real prize.
Here the fresh, vibrant flavors of sweet peas and peppery cress meld beautifully in this simple pasta dish.
Tangy pea dip pairs perfectly with spring vegetables. This dip is a riff on the classic green goddess dressing. It's made thicker with a base of pureed peas enriched with Greek yogurt and creamy avocado.