Consider Heirloom Varieties When Growing Peas

Heirloom pea plants are the way to go when you decide on growing peas.


| January/February 2015



Shell Peas on a Bowl

No matter the variety, shell peas are delicious when homegrown and home-cooked.

Photo by David Cavagnaro

Like most folks, my first experience eating green peas was as a child. For some reason, my family ate peas in one form only: from a silver and black Le Sueur can. I hated them. In those days, you ate what you were served, so I ate them with displeasure.

For years, I avoided peas whenever I could. Being an optimist, I somehow lost my resignation when I moved to the country and planted a long double row of Tall Telephone peas and ate the fresh divine greenness of the legume family. There is nothing quite like eating homegrown peas. While they require a bit more work than other vegetables, if you have the garden space, they are well worth the effort.

The family

Peas (Pisum sativum) are a member of the Leguminosae or Fabaceae family, commonly known as Pea or Bean family. It is the third largest plant family and contains close to 20,000 species worldwide of economic and ornamental importance. The biggest subfamily in this family is the Faboideae, or Papilionoideae. Members of this group are easy to identify by their often showy five-part flowers that consist of a banner, keel and wings.

Common to most pea plants is the legume, the botanical name for the long flattened fruit that opens along a seam — the pea pod in this case. Leaves are generally compound, meaning a leaf is composed of a few too many leaflets. Legumes include food plants such as peas, cowpeas and soybeans, as well as shell and dry beans such as kidney beans, lima beans, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts and many others. A variety of forage and bee plants, such as clovers, alfalfa and vetch, are found in this family, too.

History of the pea

Several species of peas originated around 8,000 B.C. in the Middle East. The exact origin of our garden pea, Pisum sativum, is unclear. It is likely derived from a wild pea, Pisum elatius, whose native habitat hugs the Mediterranean from Spain to the Middle East.

Peas reached the Americas in early 17th century, being grown by 1629 in Jamestown of the Virginia Colony and Plymouth, now located in Massachusetts. According to the Rev. Francis Higginson, a minister in Colonial New England, there was a “store of peas (in Plymouth) ... as good as I ever eat in England.” There are numerous early mentions of “peasons” in the New World, beginning with cultivation in 1493 by Christopher Columbus on Isabela Island, and in 1535, mentioned by the French explorer Jacques Cartier as being grown by the indigenous peoples near Montreal. It is not certain that all these references refer to Pisum sativum or to other legumes such as beans. It is, however, certain that by 1779, peas were widely grown by native tribes, including the Iroquois Federation, whose pea crop was destroyed by Gen. John Sullivan’s campaign to remove the New York tribes during the American Revolution.

jane
7/6/2015 12:41:15 AM

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