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English Peas: A Little History + One Easy Recipe

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English peas come into their full glory in mid-Spring to early Summer.  These little green pearls and their cousins were amongst the first crops to be cultivated, and is thought to have originated in central Asia.  Archeological evidence show that wild peas were consumed circa 9750 BC by our paleolithic ancestors around the areas of modern day Burma and Thailand. Moving ahead in time to 500 BC, we find that the Greeks and Romans enjoyed Pisum Sativum in the form of pea soup sold by street vendors.

Apicius, the well-known Roman cookbook has no less than nine recipes for peas.  About 1,500 years later, Catherine de Medici, in 1533, brought one of her favorite foods, pisella novella with her to France when she married Henry II.  The Italians had hybridized a smaller, more tender version of the common field pea, and eating them fresh, rather than dried, became the vogue in France.  These very small peas are known as petit pois in French.

Peas and Genetic Research

Peas have contributed more to humanity then just feeding hunger.  They have also been the medium by which the principles of genetics were first discovered.
Around the mid-18oos, Gregor Mendel, known as the “father of genetics” did a series of experiments using the common pea plant (Pisum Sativum) and realized that there were  traits that could be passed on from one generation to another in a predictable manner.  He went on to proof that there were “recessive”, and “dominant” traits that were expressed through our genes.

Peas are Environment-Friendly

Growing peas bring several benefits to the soil. First, with the help of bacteria in the soil, peas and other pulse crops are able to take nitrogen gas from the air and convert it into a usable form by the soil in which they are grown, so that additional fertilizer is not needed.  Second, peas have a relatively shallow root system which can help prevent soil erosion. Third, once the peas have been harvested, the remaining plant parts are broken down easily to help replenish the soil.  And finally, rotation of peas with other crops help to reduce the problem of pests.

Peas are Super Healthy

Peas have been part of our diet for so long, that some of its amazing health benefits have been overlooked.  But scientists are now beginning to discover that they are packed with health promoting compounds.  In additional to being a good source of manganese, and copper along with vitamins C, E, and K; peas can be very effective in calming inflammation because it contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a form of Omega-3.  There are also several polyphenols found in green peas that may help to prevent stomach cancer, and heart disease.

Peas Get Canned

In spite of its long relationship with humans; contributing to our culinary enjoyment, scientific advancement in genetics, plus health and ecological benefit, the Campbell Soup company thought nothing of degrading these beautifully green edible jewels by subjecting them to intense heat, and then sealing them in the suffocating darkness of tin cans.
And thanks to this industrial usurpation of our farm fresh foods,  not many of us escaped childhood without being haunted by the grey mushiness of peas in a can.  Well, it is time to give peas their due respect, and superimpose upon that dark memory with the true taste and texture of peas in their finest emerald freshness.  Please go forth and get yourself a few pounds of fresh English or garden peas in pods, invite a friend over, sit down with cups of tea or glasses of wine, shuck the peas together, indulge in some gossip, and then enjoy this wonderful recipe.

The Recipe: English Peas with Bacon & Ricotta Salata

Ingredients:
1 to 1-1/2 pounds English Peas
1 strip thick cured bacon, cut into 1/4″ pieces
2 Tablespoons chicken stock or water
Celtic Sea Salt®, , or other good-quality sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper
5 – 6 large mint leaves, cut into strips
Extra whole mint leaves as garnish

Directions:
1) Shell the peas, and place them in a bowl. Try not to eat too many as you are taking them out of the pods.
2) In a cast iron, or heavy saute pan, toss in the bacon pieces and cook until just brown.

bacon
3) Pour off the fat, leaving about 2 tablespoons in the pan.
4) Add in the fresh peas and stock or water.  Stir to heat the peas through.  About 2 minutes.
5) Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
6) Transfer the peas and bacon into a serving bowl and mix in the chopped mint.
7) Top with the salata ricotta, and serve.
Makes about 2 – 3 servings.

For love of Food & Friends,
Karen

References:

http://www.bestcookingpulses.com/history.php

http://www.whfoods.com

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