Planting edible podded peas makes good sense; growing the tall vining peas makes even more sense. Doing so can utilize frequently overlooked garden space while providing fresh-picked flavor that makes meals memorable.
There are two types--the snow pea and the snap pea--that have literally no waste. The latter--the innovative snap pea--is in a class by itself since its gold-medal introduction in the 1979 All-America selections. The entire pod captures the sweet flavor of freshly harvested garden peas and needs less preparation because no shelling is required. Also, raising any edible-podded pea is less frustrating, because the usually discarded empty pods amount to half the crop. With edible podded peas, the pot, not the compost pile, gets the whole product.
Given a prop, the taller varieties reach for the sky, and up may be the direction for future home gardening. (Newly found space is, as always, an enduring treasure, as any parent who ever put an extra bunk over a child's bed would testify.) Staked stoutly, they produce more sweet pods per square foot of soil than the so-called "bush" varieties. The pods are also easier to see and harvest.
Culture for tall, vining edible podded peas is the same as for any other garden pea as long as you provide support for the tall--but weak--stems. Support can be a chain-link fence, strings secured to high window sills or deciduous or dead trees--anything that the tendrils can latch on to.
One common form of support employs six-foot towers made from six linear feet of encircled concrete reinforcing wire. These can be used as tomato cages in summer. Use bird netting at the time of planting to keep birds from stealing the emerging seedlings.
The tall, vining edible podded peas sold at most seed racks are Sugar Snap and the Oregon Sugarpod snow pea. An improved Oregon Sugar Pod has increased resistance to disease and mildew and is available from many mail-order catalogues.
If the harvest is late, the snap pea tends to be forgiving, but the snow pea is not. The snow pea pod, or sugar pea, as it is also called, develops an inedible parchment wall as the pods approach maturity, usually when the peas within begin to bulge. Short, flat pods signal the presence of supreme quality and the time to pick.
All types of peas fare better if they are picked constantly. Steady harvesting induces and prolongs production of pods. The reason: Nature follows a pattern of survival--to reproduce itself through seed. Once seed is set within the pods, a signal that the job is done is triggered and the plant is inclined to give up.
The fresh, sweet pods are a treat that will recall your first childhood taste of just-picked peas. Prompt cooking halts the natural processing of sugar into starch. Served with a fresh herb-sour cream dip, these peas are a treat indeed.
The strings--often two per snap pea and one per snow pea--seem worth the minimal effort of removing. There is a stringless variety of sugar snaps that bears well, but it lacks the full flavor of the original.
Quick microwave cooking celebrates the best features of edible podded peas. The pods stay intact; no minerals are lost in the cooking water. Snow peas lend an exotic, sweet and colorful touch to stir-fry foods and casseroles. Although stir-fried pods are traditional in Oriental cooking, they are also graced by being steamed. The liquid that remains after the cooking is rich in minerals, phosphorus, iron, niacin, thiamine and vitamins B-1 and C--as well as concentrated flavor. These peas make a priceless contribution to a jar of accumulated stock for future soups and stews.
The use of cooked-vegetable liquids is a baffling omission from too many cookbooks, but not in "Vegetables the Italian Way" by Teresa Gilardi Candler. Her frittata recipes in the Egg Dish section--especially one for Minted Pea Frittata--alone are worth the price of the book. They solve a dilemma that faces the home gardener when that first small crop comes in and there are not enough peas to go around at dinner. Although the book is out of print, it is still available through the author. Write to 93 Harvard St., Closter, N.J. 07624; it costs $12 per copy.