Really fresh peas will be crisp, bright green and smooth. 1kg of pods yields about 500g of small tender peas, or 750g of large peas. Look for firm, bright green plump pods and avoid any that are discoloured or wrinkled. Available from mid-June to mid-August, peas lose their sweet taste and green colour quickly so they should always be eaten as fresh as possible.
Uses: They can be cooked in different ways according to their size and tenderness. Small garden peas can be served as a starter when sweated in butter with chopped spring onions. Peas are lovely too when tossed in mint butter.
To store: Use fresh peas as soon as possible.
To prepare: Press the pods open using your fingers and use your thumb to push out the peas.
To cook: Cook in lightly salted water for 10-15 minutes until tender. Drain and serve. If the peas are to be used cold in a salad, plunge the peas into cold water as soon as they are cooked. This keeps their flavour, texture and colour.
One of the few vegetables that, when frozen, remains close to the fresh variety in taste, colour and texture. Fresh peas need to be eaten very soon after harvesting and their quality deteriorates in hours rather than days. Frozen peas are picked and frozen within hours and are a good alternative to the fresh variety. Frozen petit pois are also available.
Uses: As an accompanying vegetable or made into soup or purées.
To store: Keep in the freezer for up to 1 year.
To cook: Cook in boiling water for 3-4 minutes.
These are as the name suggests smaller than standard peas, although they are in fact the same variety - just picked earlier when they have a slightly sweeter flavour.
Uses: See peas, above.
Sugar snap peas
The pod and peas of these sweet vegetables are eaten. They are sometimes confused with mange tout, but are plumper and rounder. They have a delicate fresh flavour and it is important not to overcook them.
Uses: They can be eaten raw or cooked. Add to stir-fries, pasta sauces or salads or serve as an accompanying vegetable.
To prepare: Wash thoroughly and top and tail the pods.
To cook: For best results steam or cook in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, until just cooked but still a little crunchy.
Yellow split peas
Dried split peas are commonly known as dal in Indian cookery, of which yellow split peas are just one variety. They have a meaty yet sweet flavour and are quite different from fresh peas.
Uses: Split peas must be soaked and cooked before use. They can be included in soups, stews and Indian vegetarian dishes. They were traditionally used to make pease pudding (a savoury dish of boiled peas flavoured with salt and pepper and sometimes mint) which was served with ham or salt pork.
To store: Keep in a cool, dry place.
To prepare: Wash thoroughly and remove any stones or damaged peas. Soak the peas overnight in cold water.
To cook: Rinse the soaked peas and cover with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 1 hour, season and add butter to taste.