Growing and Cooking Asparagus Peas
The asparagus pea is confusingly named, because it is neither asparagus nor even a true culinary pea. Nevertheless, it is a member of the pea family, and takes its name from the asparagus-like flavour of the pods, which are cooked whole.
It is also known as the ‘winged pea’ because of the four wavy flanges, or wings, on the pod.
Planning the crop
The plant is half-hardy and therefore vulnerable to frost.
In the autumn or winter before sowing, prepare the bed by digging in some well-rotted manure or compost. Before sowing, dress the soil with a general fertiliser at 2 oz per square yard (60g per square metre).
How much to grow
A 20 ft (6 m) row will provide regular pickings for a family of four during August. There is only one species of asparagus pea.
Growing asparagus peas
In the south, sow the seeds in the second week of May, 8 in. (200 mm) apart in drills 2 in. (50 mm) deep. The drills should be 18 in. (455 mm) apart.
Sow two seeds in each station and remove the weaker one if both germinate.
In the north, sow the seeds 1 in (25 mm) deep in pots of seed compost in a greenhouse or frame, or on a sunny window-sill indoors, at the end of April, and plant out 8 in (200 mm) apart in early June when the danger of frost is past.
In each case a second sowing can be made a few weeks later to give a succession. Support the plants with twiggy sticks.
Pests and Diseases
Asparagus peas may suffer from the same pests as peas, but they are generally disease-free.
Harvesting and Storing
Pick the pods when they are only 1 – 1-1/2 in. (25-40mm) long. If they are allowed to grow longer, they become stringy and lose their delicate flavour.
Go over the plants daily, because regular picking will help to maintain supplies.
Cooking Asparagus Peas
Use the pods as soon as possible after picking, topping and tailing them as for young French beans. Cook the prepared peas in the minimum of boiling salted water for about 5 minutes. Drain and toss in melted butter, and sprinkle with chopped parsley, dill, marjoram or basil. Grated nutmeg and ginger also combine well with asparagus peas.