Fresh peas can only mean one thing here in the UK – Spring is on its way and we can start enjoying those fresh, green and lighter vegetables and banish away those heavier veg from the winter.

Peas for me are all part of my childhood memories.  My father would grow them in the garden and I would sit on the back door step with a collender and happily shell them for hours, even eating some along the way.  The sweetness was amazing and it always seemed a shame to boil them, as I’d have happily eaten them raw.  In fact, I actually felt as though I has regressed back to my childhood the other day, as I sat at the kitchen table with the winter sun, shining through the patio doors, listening to the radio.  A DJ came on that I remember from my teens, while I was shelling Dad’s peas.  Such a surprise, as peas were an item from Riverford Organic Farms delivery that I wasn’t expecting.  Right then, I felt quite content with life.

kitchen table shelling peas

Picking the right peas

This might seem obvious to some.  For the best flavour, choose small peas, as they are younger, sweeter and tender.  Choose the freshest peas you can.  Once picked, the sugar content changes, which causes their sweetness to diminish and can become somewhat lacking in flavour and become starchy.

You know peas are fresh as the pods (or shells) should be firm and green, so avoid any that look like they are wilting or turning yellow.  Choose the medium sized pods, as larger ones are more mature and the peas are older and lack some flavour of the younger ones.  If you can’t find fresh ones, opt for frozen petit pois (little peas) as they are sweet and generally frozen within a couple of hours of picking, to hold in that freshness.  I still think you can’t pick fresh garden peas, which are still as sweet, despite being a little bigger than petit pois.

Cooking peas

Boil for 2 – 3 minutes in a pan with the least amount of water you require.  Do not add any salt (which we do for most of our veg), as this causes their shells to toughen up.  Instead and surprisingly to some (including me), is add a pinch of sugar.  This really does bring out their natural sweetness.  Top tip then!

If you want to steam your peas instead, go ahead, simply reduce the cooking time by 1 minute.  Serve with a sprig of fresh mint.

Can I freeze peas?

For short-term storage, keep them in a plastic bag and put into the salad drawer of your fridge.  Shell first, before freezing.  To retain their colour, while cooking, you should blanch them.  To do this, you simply cook them for 2 – 3 minutes in boiling water, then plunge straight into ice cold water to stop the cooking process.  They will retain their lovely greenness.  Drain and freeze when cooled.  By putting them into a sealable freezer bag, they can be stored for 3 – 6 months.

What is so good about peas?

I love the fact that peas are ready in just minutes and are one of our important 5 a day.  Exceptionally nutritious as 1 cup contains 50% of our daily requirement for Vitamin K (helps blood clotting), 28% of fibre, 16% protein and between 10 – 15% intake of our minerals, including potassium and iron and magnesium.   Not many vegetables can claim such a high level of nutrition.  Peas can also claim antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.  Support for regulating blood sugar levels, healthy heart promotion and following some Mexican-based studies, they consider peas to have some protection against stomach cancer.

Why not go and buy a pack of fresh peas (unshelled) as they hold in the goodness better and try one of these five recipes that you can utilise with your peas, while keeping in that freshness that they exude so well.  Leftover peas will be perfect for Thai fried rice:

Pea and ham soup

Salmon in crème fraîche with greens

Thai fried rice

Spring vegetable tagliatelle

Chicken strips with greens

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