Peas & Snow Peas
Fresh peas are part of the extensive legume family with thousands of species worldwide. Some believe early varieties originated in the Mediterranean basin, though others cite Asia as their birthplace, before spreading to Europe. They made their way to America sometime after Columbus.
Green peas, often called garden or English peas (not to be confused with dry or cowpeas), are the most common edible pea, with a tough pod.
Snow peas or Asian pod types are thinner and flatter than green peas. Referred to as mange-tout by the French, translating as “eat it all,” explains the chief difference between the two types. The Chinese are credited as the first to consume peapods without removing the seeds.
Botanically, peas are a fruit since they have internal seeds originating from a flower. Austrian Gregor Mendel, often considered the father of modern genetics, was the first to map out the genetic traits of peas. Clarence Birdseye was the first to commercially freeze peas for consumption.
Types & Varieties
Green peas are shelled and eaten without their pod. In the United States, most green pea crops are either frozen or sent for processing. Garden pea varieties have either smooth or wrinkled seeds: the former tend to have more starch and the latter are generally sweeter and preferred for fresh consumption.
The smooth-seeded types are favored for producing ripe seeds, which are then used like dry beans to make split-pea soup. Recommended varieties include Sparkle, Little Marvel, Green Arrow, Wando, Daybreak, and Spring.
Snow peas (also called sugar snap peas or Chinese peapods) are broad, flat, and crisp with a tiny bulge of seeds visible at prime eating stage. Each pod contains 5 to 7 seeds and averages 3 to 3.5 inches in length.
Snow peas are popular raw as a snack or in stir-fry dishes. Popular varieties include Mammoth Melting Sugar, Nofilla, Oregon Giant, Oregon Sugar Pod, Short ’n Sweet, Snowman, and Sugar Daddy.
Snap peas are a cross between green and snow peas with well-developed, fully rounded seeds and an edible pod averaging 2.5 to 3 inches in length. Common varieties include Snowbird, Dwarf Baby Sugar, and Snowflake.
Peas thrive in cool, moderate climates. The best soils are silty, sandy, or clay loams with good drainage and a pH up between 6.0 and 7.5. While plants need a generous supply of moisture, too much will reduce yields.
Most plants, when seeded in the spring, can withstand a frost though not extended periods of cold. Overly warm temperatures will affect flowering. Peas will be ready for harvest about 3 weeks after bloom and should be picked before maturity. Pods should be soft without bulging seeds.
Snow peas are classified as either determinate (a creeping, ground crop grown without the need for trellises) or indeterminate (taller, climbing, and requiring the support of trellises) and are slower to mature, requiring 6 to 7 weeks after seeding for spring crops.
Harvest should begin a week to 10 days after flowering to assure sweet, flat, fiberless pods, without visible seeds and should continue daily. For sugar snap peas, pods should be plump, round, and with nearly full-sized seeds.
All peas should be bright green (without yellowing), firm, and free from blemishes or damage. For peas destined for processing, mechanical harvesting is the norm.