Dig this

Podding along with Alastair Gilmour

There’s a good chance the garden pea can claim to be our oldest vegetable.

The earliest trace is from Bronze Age settlements in Switzerland around 3,000 BC and from there it spread to India and on to China and then the rest of us.

Nothing beats freshly picked peas, despite the attempts of food companies to convince us that frozen is better. “Fresh as the moment when the pod went pop” is marketing hooey, though as hooey goes, it has stickability.

The thrill of taking dried nodules, soaking them for a day or two then popping them straight into the ground to grow long, strong and vibrant never dims.

Watching pea greenery poke out of well-manured soil and reach supporting trellises or nets over a few summer weeks is one of the allotmenteer’s great pleasures, and they brighten any dish, from mince and tatties rustled up in the kitchen to pea puree with scallops in a
Michelin-starred restaurant.

Sow seeds fortnightly and water well for a continual summer supply – the last thing you want is a glut, it’s just a waste – and an autumn crop can be sown in July.

Once the pods are harvested, the plants can be spread on the compost heap and shelled pods can be used to make a smooth blended soup, sieving out the stringy fibres before serving. Speed of picking is the secret, as within hours their sugars turn to starch and sweetness is lost. Do it as your last allotment job of the day and pod them straight away.

Pick them young, before they have developed large bumps, picking from the bottom up to encourage more growth further up the plant. Either blanch and freeze or cook as you fancy. You can’t go far wrong with the classic Italian dish risi e bisi; rice and peas with prosciutto and a lather of Parmesan, traditionally made with the first harvest of spring.

As for goodness, green peas are a good source of bone-building vitamin K and manganese which boosts levels of folate, a micronutrient crucial for heart health and foetal development. Their significant store of vitamin C also supports your immune system, so it would appear the common or garden, everyday pea might not be so humble after all.
PS Allotment holders are great savers and barterers. Last month, I bought a bonny hardy fuchsia to fill a space in the garden. I cut off a dozen sprigs, nipped the bottom leaves off and popped them in a jar of water on the kitchen window sill. Feathery roots quickly formed and now they’re ready to pot and be bartered with neighbours (see photo above). Canny, eh?

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