The pea is one of the oldest vegetables. Traces of the pea have been found from 9,000 to 10,000 years ago in Iran, Palestine, Greece, and the lake cities of the Bronze Age.
It seems that peas were usually consumed dried. The Latin name Pisum sativum seems to prove this as pisere means "break", referring to the action of crushing the dried peas.
However, during the Renaissance, young pea pods were eaten with their seeds. "Peas without skin in the cod", as they were called in England in the 16th century, became mangetout, or snow peas.
Peas only started to be eaten fresh from the 17th century, first in Italy and then in the Netherlands.
They then spread to France. When Sieur Audigier presented himself at the court of Louis XIV with a basket full of peas, he went down a storm and this vegetable quickly became fashionable.
Naturally, the King ordered them to be planted in his garden at Versailles.
Pea cultivation rapidly developed, especially in the Paris region, near Clamart and Saint-Germain. This is why some recipes using peas have names relating to these places: Saint-Germain Soup (made using split peas) and Clamart Artichokes (artichoke hearts and peas).
There were already dozens of varieties of the pea in the 16th century. In 1925, 360 were identified. There are now 129.
Pea cultivation spread everywhere with the invention of canning in 1824.
The main producing countries are the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.
Peas have a place in the history of genetics. By crossing different species of peas in every way possible, the monk Mendel established, in the 19th century, the fundamental laws of this science.
Fresh peas and snow peas are sold when in season. But the majority of a crop of peas is frozen or canned, and a small part is dried.
The peas, after they have been shelled and washed, are blanched prior to freezing. They are called "peas" or "sweet peas" when they come from a variety with these sorts of organoleptic qualities (Kelvedon Wonder, Dark Skin Perfection, etc.)
They are sometimes sorted by size. When they are, a distinction is made between extra fine, very fine, fine, medium-fine, medium. The addition of sugar and/or salt and/or spices and herbs is allowed but must be indicated on the label.
Snow peas are also sold frozen, after being blanched.
In France, smooth varieties are called petit pois (peas), while wrinkled varieties are called petits pois doux (sweet peas). The grading standards are the same as for frozen peas.
Split peas (dried)
Split peas come from large round peas that are harvested when fully ripe, during summer, and then dried. Their cellulose casing is removed, before they are cut in half and often glazed with talc or glucose.
Peas: bright shiny green pods with no marks, nicely puffed and easy to open. It should be possible to feel the peas inside when pressing on the pod. It is good idea to taste a pea: the seed must be crisp and slightly sweet. Peas are better when they are young: as they age, their glucose turns into starch and they become floury.
Snow peas: bright green pods, slightly iridescent, flat and smooth, brittle, stiff, and small.
Snow peas that are too big have membranes. The tip and the stem should be fresh, not dry.
Frozen peas: they must be well separated from each other, not in a block.
Around 500 g of pea pods are needed to obtain 175 g of peas, and so 1.5 kg for 4–5 people.
They should be cooked quickly in boiling salted water, drained and then immediately cooled in ice water to preserve their color. They are used to make soup (with some pods when they are very soft), puree, casseroles, and salads. Petits pois à la française is a classic recipe in which they are cooked with lettuce hearts, pearl onions, chervil, and butter.
In Asia, young pea shoots are widely consumed, whether raw in a salad or quickly fried in a wok.
They must be carefully topped and tailed. They can be rapidly blanched, steamed, or fried. They can be eaten as a garnish, in a casserole with seasonal vegetables, or in a salad.
It is advisable to soak them before cooking, which will shorten the cooking time. They can be made into soup or puree.
Split pea soup is traditional in various countries in Europe, but also in North America. Yellow split pea soup is a typical Canadian dish. In the Middle East, dried peas are used to make stew. In the UK, they are the basis of traditional pease pudding.
Peas and snow peas should be stored in their pods, for a maximum of 4–5 days in the refrigerator, between 1–4 °C. Peas turn floury if they are too cold.
It is best to cook them as soon as possible after shelling them.
Cooked peas can be kept for a maximum of 48 hours in the refrigerator because the shock of cooking weakens them.
The cold chain (-18 °C) must be strictly observed for frozen peas. When the peas thaw and refreeze, they form blocks.
The nutritional composition of peas is not very different between fresh and canned peas.
The finer they are, the easier they are to digest.
Peas are rich in fiber, which is excellent for digestion. They contain more protein and carbohydrates than other legumes. Much of their carbohydrate is starch, a slow carbohydrate; the rest is glucose and fructose.
They also provide a lot of carotene antioxidants.
They also contain minerals, vitamin C, and B vitamins in high quantities.
In France, a distinction is made between:
. Peas (petits pois) or green peas or shelled peas
Their seeds can be of varying sizes (depending on their maturity) and can be smooth or wrinkled. The pod has a "parchment", a fibrous layer that hardens as the pea matures. Many varieties exist, classified according to the method of cultivation.
Early peas: American Wonder Pea (wrinkled), Bandol, white or green Gontier, Annonay, Serpette (wrinkled), Vert l'Unique, British Wonder, extra-early dwarf, Express à grain vert, Prince Albert (white seed), etc.
They are available to buy from the beginning of April.
Mid-season peas: Hollanden, Lévêque, Senator (wrinkled), Bliss Abundance, Dwarf Telephone, Serpette Express, pole (white or green seeds), Plein de Panier (green seeds), etc.
Late peas: Telephone pole (green wrinkled seed), Ruelle (white seed), Knight, Standard, Clamart.They are harvested from May through July/August.
. Snow peas or mangetouts
They are eaten whole, without being shelled. The pod does not have a membrane lining. They are harvested before maturity.
The most common varieties are Carouby de Maussane, the Corne de bélier, the Sugar Snap, and the Early Snap.
They are on the market from May through September and from late July through October in North America.
In North America, a particular variety was created a few years ago: the Sugar Snap, which is a mangetout pea that is harvested once the seeds have formed.
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