Call them sweet peas, green peas, garden peas, English peas… they’re the same thing and grow the same way.
Peas thrive in a cool, sunny climate and practically taste of the color green—perfectly suited to that mid-spring, early-summer stretch when not much else is harvest-ready. Along with leafy herbs, radishes and the early salad greens, peas are among the first crops to emerge, so their arrival at farmers markets means summer’s really on its way. They’re pretty easy to grow at home, too, either in the ground or in a container garden, and make an especially fun project for households with kids—they grow so fast you can track their progress daily!
Tips for growing sweet peas
Get a jump on the season by starting indoors, planting pea seeds in a big terracotta pot (or plastic bucket). Plant the seeds in concentric rings. As the tiny shoots emerge, prop them up with wooden picks before moving the whole pot to the patio or stoop in a sunny spot. When they reach about 6 inches high, you’ll want to stabilize the shoots by adding a 3-foot tripod of stakes tied at the top; the vines will wind and climb their way up, producing edible tendrils and blossoms in May and full-grown pods by mid-June in many climates.
Fresh or frozen?
While sugar snaps and snow peas can be crisp and sweet even when bought out of season at the grocer, English shelling peas are only best when very, very recently picked. Since their sugars convert rapidly to starch, most shelling peas you’ll find at the supermarket are hard and mealy marbles, having been picked days—if not weeks—before. If these are the only “fresh” peas you have access to, skip them in favor of a bag of frozen petits pois; they’re flash-frozen right after harvest for the sweetest, most tender results and will work well in most recipes calling for freshly shelled peas.
Cooking with sweet peas
But if you grow your own peas—or if you know for sure that the peas your farmer is selling were really picked today—then gather a friend and a bowl and head for the stoop to shell a bushel of them. With peas this fresh, keep the cooking as simple as possible: crisp, fresh sweet little orbs are best just barely warmed through in pastured butter, showered with chives and fresh garden herbs. If you grow sugar snaps or snow peas instead, which are arguably nature’s best vehicle for hummus or dips, why not try something different and slice them into shreds to toss into salads or fresh and simple pasta dishes.
There’s very little that peas don’t go with: Peas love eggs, pork, lamb, chicken, fish. They’re versatile but delicate, so they can take a little punch. All of the following recipes feature something salty or smoky, something herbaceous and something sour—follow this formula when cooking peas and you’ll find a winner every time.
A few of our favorite sweet pea recipes:
- Seared Halibut with Sweet Pea Sauce and Herb Salad
- Smashed Peas on Toast with Mint
- Sugar Snap Pea Salad with Feta
- Sweet Pea Mint Julep
- Sweet Pea Pasta Carbonara
Photo: Kathleen Korb