ATTITUDES TO peas seem to range from apathy to indifference. Very few people rave about them and very few detest them. They were one of the first vegetables to be canned and among the first to be frozen, their familiarity leading us to simply take them for granted.
This is all quite unfortunate as peas are a highly nutritious source of vitamin A and C, and of dietary fibre. For the Algarve gardener, successful pea growing can be achieved with the minimum of effort – indeed the major effort is required for the harvesting.
The biggest bore with growing peas is the labour intensive picking and podding – one pod left to mature will stop the plant producing new flowers. The solution I have found to this is to grow vast amounts of garden peas, stop watering when they are full of swollen pods and allow the plants to dry in the sun, either in situ or hanging in the sun. Once they are completely dry, it is then quite straightforward to pod them and the dried peas will store in jars for a year or more. With a pressure cooker, they can be cooked in minutes, turned into mushy peas or the most divine pea and presunto soup.
As for fresh peas, I would recommend Sugar Snap or Mangetout every time. Both give a huge, reliable crop of peas, which, if picked while young and tender, can be eaten with the pod. They are sweet, delicious and, most importantly, hassle free!
Peas – growing them
• Buy garden peas for planting from an agricultural store or from a market, making sure they are suitable for planting – these are reliable and good value. Often they are coated in a chemical to prevent rotting. Mangetout and Sugar Snap peas are less easy to get hold of, but many supermarkets stock them as do internet suppliers.
• Peas can be planted from October through to early December and again from late January through to March. Always plant on a warm day and never in very wet or cold soil
• Plant in wide trenches 5cm deep, with about 7cm between plants. Always put in twiggy sticks for them to cling to, despite what the seed packet may say, and for climbing varieties put up pea netting.
• After 10 days or so, the peas will emerge. Keep the ground weed free and water during dry spells
• The peas are ready for picking and eating fresh when they become visible through the pod wall. Remember to pick regularly, as this stimulates the plant to produce new flowers and continual cropping.
Pea and Presunto Soup for four
• Put 250g of dried peas into a pan, cover with 300ml water. Leave to soak overnight.
• The next day, replace the absorbed water so that the volume of the peas is half that of the water in the pan.
• Bring to the boil and simmer until the peas are tender, keep topping up the water as the peas absorb it – this will take about 30 to 40 minutes.
• Blend with a hand processor to the desired consistency, adding more cold water if necessary.
• Add about 50g of cubed presunto and cook for a further 10 minutes.
• Taste before adding salt and pepper or a stock cube.
• With a little adaptation, this recipe can be cooked in a pressure cooker.