Bring on the peas, please

Snow and snap peas are excellent raw or quickly cooked. Clockwise from top left are Mammoth Melt-ing Sugar, Golden Sweet, Sugar Snap and Spring Blush.
Janine Pineo photo
Snow and snap peas are excellent raw or quickly cooked. Clockwise from top left are Mammoth Melt-ing Sugar, Golden Sweet, Sugar Snap and Spring Blush.
By Janine Pineo,
Posted Aug. 26, 2011, at 7:20 p.m.

Thanks to a steady supply of rain, my garden has grown to gargantuan proportions.

Consider the corn. For the past several years, I have planted varieties that produce smaller plants and ears because I seem to have better luck with that size.

This year, the 5-foot 6-inch tall plants are now about 2 feet over my head. And no, I am not 45 inches tall. Try 67.

The pole beans are expansive, with vines so lush that I could stand between the rows and nothing could spot me from two feet away. I know, because I can’t see anything from between the rows except the beans and leaves. There are even places where I can’t see the sky because the vines have formed an impenetrable roof in places.

Then there are the peas.

I sort of went pea-crazy when I ordered this year, totting up five varieties. I’ve been sowing just two kinds for the most part, but something called to me and I figured I’d find room.

I did and it’s a good thing for this is the year for peas.

I can’t talk about shelling peas, because I only planted them years ago. I prefer snow and snap peas, where you can eat everything, except maybe any overgrown strings.

The absolute best I have ever grown is Mammoth Melting Sugar, an heirloom snow pea that goes back to before 1906, according to the Fedco Seeds website. During a good year, it is an impressive plant, easily growing up to 7 feet tall. The vine can be covered with elegant white blooms that rapidly form peas.

Generally, I have to pick these peas every couple of days for the pods can quickly go past their prime.

But in their prime, they can be 4 or 5 inches long and quite wide. The string is negligible on the smaller sizes, and the flavor is pure fresh pea.

If you keep them picked, they will continue blooming until they exhaust their fuel, which can be several weeks. Most seasons, mine only quit because the water dries up.

That hasn’t been a problem thus far this year.

The past few years, I’ve grown Golden Sweet, another snow pea, but this one is a buttery lemon yellow that looks like dabs of sunlight amongst the vines.

This heirloom is from India and has been considered rare, although I am beginning to see it in more mainstream seed catalogs than I first did.

The vine is shorter than Mammoth, usually barely hitting 5 feet tall in my garden. But it produces an abundance of pods that are best when they are only a couple of inches long.

Golden Sweet also puts on a bit of a show with its two-toned purple flowers. Pair those with the yellow pods and you can imagine how lovely the display.

My only problem with Golden Sweet is that it seems more susceptible to an aphid attack than any other varieties I’ve planted, but I haven’t seen any this year.

I decided to put in some Sugar Snap this year, too, despite my spotty history with snap peas. The perfection of this season reminds me why I love the full pods that crunch like nothing else. In fact, I filled a pocket with some while I picked beans earlier this week and snacked on them as I worked my way down the bean row. They were as cool and refreshing as a Popsicle.

I prefer Sugar Snap to some of the other snap varieties, mostly because I like the taller vines. Many of the more commonly available snap peas are on shorter vines or are bush varieties, which don’t produce as well for me.

That didn’t stop me from trying Sugar Lace II, which I found in the Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog. The plants are most peculiar, being nearly leafless and heavily tendrilled, which prompts the lace moniker.

I have a few feet of these marching alongside the corn, and despite their short habit of maybe 16 inches long, they are producing a goodly amount of peas that are just as tasty as the Sugar Snap.

Given their stature, I think these might make an interesting container plant.

The fifth variety I had to try this year is called Spring Blush. It is a snap pea that is pink.

Not exactly the case in my garden.

The vines are a bit puny compared to my other stars. And the peapods look like a regular snap pea except for the “blush” of color. I wouldn’t exactly call it pink. At first, I thought it looked more like a “condition.”

But no, it is the blush, just not as extensive as the pictures I saw in the Nichols Garden Nursery catalog that prompted me to try it in the first place.

It’s nice, but it’s no Sugar Snap.

As I was reading up on peas, I came across the usual history lessons, with lots of use of the word ancient and rightly so. According to the book “Heirloom Vegetables,” peas are probably the oldest cultivated vegetable, with pea seeds discovered in ancient settlements in Asia, Egypt, Europe and “even in the ruins of early Troy.”

My favorite little nugget of history is the line about the discovery in Southeast England of “two early Iron Age storage pits full of peas.”

I like that: pits of peas.

Which I soon may be wading through if these plants don’t stop. But it will give me time to ponder why two pits were filled with peas.

And no one ever ate them.

jpineo@bangordailynews.com

www.janinepineo.com

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/08/26/living/janine-pineo/bring-on-the-peas-please/ printed on July 26, 2014