Lee Valley & Veritas

Gardening Newsletter
  Volume 13, Issue 3 - March 2018  
Like Peas? Try These Unusual Varieties!
Carouby de Maussanne, Royal Snow, Golden Sweet and Magnolia Blossom
Shown from left to right are Carouby de Maussanne, Royal Snow, Golden Sweet and Magnolia Blossom (Photo by Philip Ficks)
In our garden, 'Sugar Snap' is the pea of choice, but that doesn't stop us from experimenting with other varieties, especially those with distinctive colors such as 'King Tut' or 'Opal Creek'. We also like peas that produce extra-large pods, such as 'Carouby de Maussane', or those that have tiny peas, such as the petit pois variety 'Iona'.

Some of the unusual peas listed below are recent introductions, bred by respected and well-known breeders such as Dr. Alan Kapuler of Peace Seeds, who has spent decades fostering plant biodiversity. Others are treasured heirlooms, appreciated by gardeners for centuries. Whichever varieties you choose to grow, I hope you enjoy the exceptional quality and flavor of these unusual peas.

'KING TUT' (70 days fresh, 100 days dried): The tale behind this striking pea is that it was found in the tomb of King Tut. I'm a little skeptical about the story, but I'm convinced that this is a variety every pea-loving gardener should try. The plants grow to a modest three feet in height, but when the electric blue blooms open they will be the most beautiful plants in your garden. As the flowers fade, eye-catching deep purple pods emerge and can be picked young as a sugar pea or allowed to fatten up for shell peas. Overly mature pods can be left to dry on the plant for soup.

'BLUE POD CAPUCIJNER' (70 days fresh, 100 days dried): Purple-blue on the outside, green on the inside – these shelling peas are a big hit with all the kids who visit our garden! Their history is entwined with the Franciscan Capuchin monks in Europe, who grew them in the 16th century. Today, we appreciate their bicolored flowers (pink and red), unusual maroon-purple pods that mature to a brownish blue, and the productive plants that grow five feet tall.

'CAROUBY DE MAUSSANE' (65 days): Who says size doesn't matter? Certainly not 'Carouby de Maussane', an heirloom snow pea with pods that grow up to six inches in length! There is a lot to love about this variety: the vigorous five- to six-foot-tall plants, the two-toned maroon-and-pink flowers, and the massive five- to six-inch flat pods that maintain their tenderness, even when grown to gargantuan size. We love to stir-fry the pods when they're at peak quality, three to four inches long, but we also use them in hodgepodge, a Nova Scotian vegetable chowder, which is my favorite summer treat!

'IONA' (68 days): Good things come in small packages, and 'Iona' is the perfect example of this. Considered a petit pois shell pea, its compact two- to two-and-a-half-foot-tall vines will yield a generous crop of three-inch-long pods filled with minuscule peas that are about only half the size of normal peas. Yes, these are more time consuming to pick and shell, but miniature peas with a delicious sweet flavor? Yes, it's worth it.

'OPAL CREEK' (60 days): This interesting pea was bred by Dr. Alan Kapuler of Peace Seeds and has butter-yellow pods. These should be picked while still tender and flat, like a snow pea, and can be stir-fried, steamed or added to salads.

'TOM THUMB' (55 days): I was first introduced to 'Tom Thumb' when I was looking for compact cold-season crops for our cold frames. Given its diminutive size – just eight inches – 'Tom Thumb' seemed like a perfect fit! We now sow them in our frames in late summer, as well as in early spring for a soil-building crop of sweet shelling peas. Each pod yields about five or six tender peas. This is also a fabulous container crop and can be direct sown in pots or window boxes.

'SUGAR MAGNOLIA' (70 days): This remarkable pea, also developed by Dr. Kapuler, is the first purple-podded sugar snap. The plants grow six to seven feet tall and offer ornamental interest when the bright purple flowers open. Soon, the vivid purple pods appear; the kids love to gobble them up while standing in the pea patch. The best flavor comes from the pods just as they start to fatten.
Magnolia Blossom
Magnolia Blossom displays beautiful bicolor flowers. (Photo by Niki Jabbour)
'MAGNOLIA BLOSSOM' (80 days): Another Dr. Kapuler introduction, 'Magnolia Blossom' is a beautiful, productive pea with sweet flavor and unusual coloring. Give the vines a sturdy support as they will reach seven to eight feet. The snap pods are green, with some having a distinctive purple stripe down the side when mature. For peak quality, they should really be picked before the stripe appears, but those funky stripes are very appealing! The vines also produce edible hyper tendrils that can be picked to add a green-pea flavor to salads and stir-fries or used as an unusual garnish.

'GOLDEN SWEET' (65 days): I can't vouch for its history, but I've read that this showy snow pea was discovered in a market in India, eventually making its way to heirloom-seed catalogs across North America and Europe. Whatever its backstory, it's definitely garden gold, producing tall, productive vines with purple flowers and bright yellow pods.
Golden Sweet
Golden Sweet produces bright yellow pods. (Photo by Geoff du Feu Alamy Stock Photo)
'PETITE SNAP-GREENS' (30 days): Unlike most peas, which are bred for tender, delicious pods, this quirky variety has been developed for its edible tendrils, leaves and stems! Dr. Calvin Lamborn is the breeder – the pea genius who introduced 'Sugar Snap' and has won multiple All-America Selections awards for his cultivars. 'Petite Snap-Greens' offer modest vines that grow to about three feet tall, but you should harvest them when they're still small – six to eight inches tall – by cutting them above the first node. This encourages subsequent harvests of the tender pea shoots. These can also be seeded in cold frames in late winter for an early spring crop or in late summer for a fall crop. Add the tasty tendrils to salads or toss them in pasta.

Excerpted from Veggie Garden Remix© by Niki Jabbour. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.
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