Nice peas Norma.jpg

Nice peas Norma

By: PAUL McKAY

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Teacher, Paul McKay, left London to live a self-sufficient existence in the Monchique hills with his partner Martyn. He keeps an assortment of animals and grows a variety of crops in an eco-friendly way – all on a limited income.

BACK INthe 1990s on UK television a satirical puppet show called Spitting Images worked tirelessly to belittle, ridicule and undermine politicians.

One time Prime Minister, John Major was disparaged ruthlessly, portrayed as an incredibly boring, grey figure. His hair, skin and suit were all the same dull shade of grey. One sketch involved him and his wife, Norma, eating out at a Little Chef, where the dinner table conversation took boredom to new heights. The line “Nice peas Norma” seemed to sum him up.

Whereas more recent revelations about Mr Major have salvaged his reputation somewhat, I cannot help feeling that peas have never fully recovered. Compared to asparagus, Swiss chard and aubergine, they lack a certain excitement. They are the grey man of the vegetable world. This reputation comes from familiarity. If they were introduced to the world today as a new vegetable, crisp, sweet and flavoursome, they would be welcomed with open saucepans. The credit crunch would be a distant memory and all our troubles would be forgotten – maybe.

There are a wide variety of peas. Petit pois are picked small and taste very sweet. Garden peas are bigger but less sweet. Marrow peas are bigger still and, in Portugal, can be left to dry on the vine and stored for a year or more. Then there are the eat-all types. Mange tout are picked quite small when the pod is flat and cooked in the pod. Sugar snaps can be cooked in the same way, although they have a rounded, very sweet pod. They can also be left to grow bigger and podded like normal peas.  

When to plant

Peas are one of the few vegetables which can be planted all winter long, from October through to January. Peas planted in October – November, over-winter and make an early start in the spring giving a crop in April or May, they often give heavier crops. Later sowings have peas ready for picking in late May to June. If you want to dry peas in order to store them, they can be left on the plant to dry in the sun in June/July.

How to plant

Most peas are low growing. I plant in blocks with 4cm between peas. Twiggy sticks give them something to scramble up and keep the peas off the ground where they may be damaged. Climbing peas will need netting to scramble up. All peas benefit from rich, fertile soil, with good drainage and enjoy full winter sun.

Caring for the crop

Peas are pretty hardy, just needing watering during prolonged dry weather and a little TLC to make sure they are twining around the supports in place. Snails and slugs may be a problem.

Harvesting

Always pick peas when the pods are slightly swollen and you can just see the peas inside. If you allow them to become too big they can be hard and less sweet. All peas need checking and picking regularly, this ensures the plant stays active, producing new flowers and fruit. Peas taste best if cooked very quickly after picking.

Cooking

If you think I am going to tell you how to cook peas then think again! Write to John Major for advice.