Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Some Notes on Some Peas

Just a brief pause from the party food - it'll be back tomorrow. For now, it's peas.

The dreadful heat of last week and our seasonal drought (as seems to be usual, 9mm of rain in the last 3 weeks) have had their inevitable effect on our peas, and they are slowing down considerably. It's time to pause and assess this years peas so far.

We tried a number of new-to-us peas this year, as well as planting them in rather different territory than last year. Peas were planted in the lower side yard this year, which means they were planted in very moist, heavy clay soil enriched with elk manure, instead of very quick-draining, very sandy soil enriched with elk manure, which has been the usual garden fare around here previously.

In spite of a late planting they really flourished. They loved all the moisture. I was afraid it would be too wet, but no. In fact, we've had to start watering them in the last week or so, which we were really hoping to avoid. Of course, we were also really hoping that it would rain properly at least a couple of times in July. Dream on.

Sapporo Express Peas
Sapporo Express

These seeds came from Annapolis Seeds, who describes them as "A vigourously growing shelling pea that climbs over three feet and produces our earliest pea crop. A cool feature of this variety is that the pods press tight against the peas, allowing ripeness to be easily determined."

Sapporo Express is not a commonly available pea. As the name suggests, they are Japanese in origin, but little more information can be found. I wonder if they have some snow-pea ancestry in them; the pods are thin and conform to the shape of the peas, as well as turning quite a light green. The pods are not very fibrous which also reminds me of snow-peas.

These were amongst the first three peas to produce (pretty much all at the same time) and the only one of those first three peas to still be producing, although the plants are plainly about to pack it in as a result of the extreme heat and drought we've been having. Ours have grown well over 6'. Most of our peas are considerably taller than described, which I mostly ascribe to the rich soil and plentiful moisture of their new bed.

You'll note the catalogue doesn't say anything about the flavour. I managed to forget that little tid-bit of catalogue-translation wisdom this spring, and indeed these are not the best-tasting peas. They're in no way bad and we've been perfectly happy to eat them; they just don't compare to any of the others, early or late, that we've been growing and for that reason we won't grow them again. They are very early, but there are other better peas just as early.

Tall Telephone Peas
Tall Telephone

Most sources say they are also known as Alderman or Tall Alderman, but I'm not convinced they are identical. This is a variety that dates to the last quarter of the 19th century. It's a little harder to pin down after that. One source dates it to 1878, another to 1881 (when it was mentioned by Vilmorin), a third to 1885. Part of the problem is that there was a Telephone pea, a Carter's Telephone pea and perhaps others, and it can be hard to tell exactly which one is being talked about, assuming they are even different peas, which they may very well be. And where do they come from? They could be English, French, Italian or even Swiss in origin. Assertions are made, but no work is shown. Wherever they came from, they spread far and wide, and there seems to be some variability in them even now.

At any rate, this is one of the few heirloom peas still widely available, having never lost popularity. It's often the only pole pea offered in a sea of shorter bush peas. I've said before that I prefer to grow pole peas and beans, and I don't know why more home gardeners aren't growing them too.

In general, pole peas and beans take longer to start producing, but produce for a longer period of time (indeterminate) and have much better flavour, as they get more to work with from the greater proportion of leaf and root available to them. They have to be trellised it's true, but they are much easier to pick. Tall Telephone definitely meets this description. It was a later pea - it should take approximately 75 days to start producing, or about 2 weeks longer than most of the early peas - and the flavour is superb. Sweet, but full and rich. The peas get fairly large, for peas. Of course you can leave them too long and they get starchy, but they aren't as dainty as most other peas even at their prime.

They do have one odd characteristic: some of the pods are very large and inflated and you have to feel them gently to see if the peas have developed sufficiently to pick, but others are more standard, with the pods conforming tightly to the peas. It does make them a little tricky to pick. Either way, there should be about 8 peas per pod.

Tall Telephone are described as reaching 6 feet in height, but as ever ours have topped our 7 foot trellis and are keeping on. Unlike snow peas and beans, peas seem to have fairly rigid stems and don't flop down once they have outgrown the support, at least not yet. I figure ours are heading for 9 feet and they are getting pretty hard to pick.

They are said not to be enation resistant, enation being a viral disease of peas. The peas are wrinkled when dry. Wrinkled peas are not as cold-hardy as smooth peas and so they should be planted with a bit more caution in the spring. On the other hand, the wrinkling is an indication that the peas are high in sugar, which is why they are soooo sweet and tasty.

Good strong trellises and lots of moisture will make your Tall Telephone peas happy. Heat won't, but ours are continuing to produce at a slower rate showing that they are more heat resistant than some of the earlier peas.

Harrison's Glory Peas
Harrison's Glory

Harrison's Perfection - Carter & Co. Sown, March 24th; in flower June 6th; fit for use, June 30th. Stems, 3 feet, robust. Pods, 14-15 on a stem, small, straight, containing 5 peas of good size and quality. The only defect is, that the pods do not fill well. When growing this cannot be distinguished from Harrison's Glory; but in the mature state the seeds of the former are smooth and white; those of the latter indented, and of an olive colour.

Harrison's Glory - Nutting & Son. Carter & Co. Sown, March 24th; in flower June 5th; fit for use June 27th. Height, 3 feet, of a bushy, robust habit of growth. Pods, about 16 on a stem, rather short, nearly straight and flattish, containing 5-6 medium-sized peas of good quality, light olive mixed with white when dry, and also slightly indented. A good variety, but like Harrison's Perfection above noticed, it has the defect of the pods being frequently not well filled.

Proceedings of the Horticultural Society of London, Volume 1 1861.
The above descriptions, dating from shortly after the introduction of Harrison's Glory, were very interesting to me. I found them - or at least the one for Harrison's Glory, since that's what I grew - still mostly very accurate. The indentation they refer to is what we would now call wrinkling, a sign of high sugar content. I would disagree only on the height. Ours have reached 5 feet, easily. They are an unusual intermediate height; too tall to be a bush pea, too short to really be a pole pea. They will need good sturdy support, but it needn't be the full-on trellising required for taller peas. Of course, that's how we grew them since we have the trellising anyway.

The pods are very plentiful, but rather short. Six peas is as many as you can expect in a pod and there were indeed quite a few pods where only a few of the peas matured. In spite of this mild defect, we will grow Harrison's Glory again, because the flavour is excellent. They have also held up to the heat and drought better than any of the other peas we grew. Their leaves are still dark green, full and healthy. In spite of their shortish height, they behaved more like a pole pea than a bush pea. They were definitely in the second round of peas to mature, and they seem quite strongly indeterminate.

Harrison's Glory will be hard to find. Heritage Harvest is the only company selling them in Canada this year.


spencer said...

Excellent post. It all the information you wish you had before you tried them out haha

That heat was pretty bad, thankfully it is over

Ferdzy said...

Thanks, Spencer. I sure hope it doensn't get quite that hot again this summer.

By the way, when we're talking about wrinkled, smooth or indented peas, that's when they are DRY. When they are eaten fresh they will be regular round smooth green peas.

Jerry said...

With all the peas you harvest, how do you shell them? By hand or do you have some mechanical contraption? There must be thousands of pea pods on those trellises!

Ferdzy said...

Jerry, we shell them by hand. We're starting to look for contraptions though. I would definitely like to have one! On the other hand, I sit and read the internet and shell peas. It's a good thing to do in the middle of the day when it's too hot to be outside.

Jerry said...

Check this out:

Ferdzy said...

Thanks, Jerry. Probably we will look into one of those next year.

Jerry said...

I have just planted snow peas.Am I crazy to plant that late? Fall crop, it will be first for me.

Ferdzy said...

We just planted some today too! We're pushing our luck... but maybe!

Jerry said...

Speaking of pushing one’s luck, I have planted Amish Snap Peas 2 days ago, August 3rd. With the weather we are having the chances are good that I will be “snapping” my Amish peas this fall.