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Snap! Crackle! Pop!

No, it’s not Rice Krispies, but something way better that will never get soggy at the bottom of the bowl! We’re talking peas, please!

The French term them mangetout, meaning “eat it all.” You’ll be doing just that, plucking them directly from the vine to pop into your mouth.

Pisum sativum (sativum meaning “cultivated”) var. macrocarpon, shares characteristics of its parents, Pisum sativum (shelling pea) and Pisum sativum var. saccharatum (snow pea).

Podded peas (including sugar snap) are members of the legume family since their pods enclose fleshy, edible seeds. Shelling (or garden) peas have sweet, full-sized seeds and inedible pods. Snow peas have edible pods but immature seeds. Sugar snaps have both edible seeds and pods.

Dip into that bowl, not one of soggy cereal, but where two distinct types of peas have mingled to yield sugar snap peas, and discover something sensational.

Both shelling peas and snow peas have been cultivated and consumed for around 10,000 years. Likely originating from areas such as Thailand, Burma, the Middle East, and Ethiopia, their cultivation spread throughout Europe, China and India about 4,000 years ago.

It’s likely that the Romans took many pea varieties to Britain, where they became a most important staple. When dried, their quality in long-term storage provided food throughout the winter when little else was available. Hear! Hear! To pea protein!

After Christopher Columbus planted peas in 1492, Native Americans soon cultivated them as well. Thereafter, European colonists grew them before they were cultivated by pioneers traveling westward.

Although both snap “shelling” peas and snow peas are popular plants in home gardens, it was the disappearance of the snap shelling pea that gave us the greatest gift of all.
No snap peas were being sold commercially by the 1970s. Plant breeders Calvin Lamborn and MC Parker of Twin Falls, Idaho, hybridized the “Sugar Snap” in 1979. This modified shell pea earned recognition as an All-American Selection winner.

The sugar snap pea has irresistible sugar-sweet flesh and its seeds are easy to eat when freshly snapped off the vine. They’re also wonderful when quickly blanched for salads, sautéed, or stir fried for a sweet side dish. That is, if there’s any left for the cook!

It’s enough to stimulate your sowing appetite and early spring is the time to start your crop.

Pre-sprouting (put seeds on wet paper toweling on large dinner plate then cover with a clear-domed microwave top) is quickest. This method takes only a few days and eliminates the “duds”.

When roots and top sprouts appear, pot seeds up in six-packs filled with good potting soil, then place them under lights until the plants are 4” high. Acclimate outside for several days and then you’re ready to plant.

In no time, you’ll be snapping and savoring those crackling and popping Sugar Snaps right off the vine!

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Fun facts

• The fibers in edible-podded peas grow in one direction making them easier to chew.

• Only 5% of the peas produced are sold fresh.

• Thomas Jefferson cultivated more than 30 varieties of garden peas.

• When kept at room temperature after harvesting, half the sugar content in fresh peas turns to starch – so fridge those snappers!

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Recipe: Ginger snaps

Ingredients

3 cups sugar snap peas, washed and stems removed

1 1/2 tablespoons cooking canola oil

3 cloves of organic garlic, peeled and minced fine

1 2” long knob of fresh ginger root, peeled, cut in thin slices, then cut again in thin strips

2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, washed and cut in thin strips

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seed (tan or black)

1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

Heat the canola oil in a medium sized sauté pan. Add garlic and cook over medium heat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add peas and ginger root and sauté for about 1-2 minutes until peas are bright green. Toss in mint, sesame seed, toasted sesame oil, and sea salt, stirring to mix for about 1/2 minute longer. Serve immediately as a side dish.

Serves about 4-6

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