What is the point of peas?

Photo by Sam Hojati on Unsplash

The Chinese, who know a thing or two about food, use a few peas to give a bit of colour to egg fried rice, and that, as far as I am aware, is that for the pea in Chinese cuisine.

The pie and pea supper

Back in the fifties, when I was a teenager, working class social events tended to be arranged around the pie and pea supper, whether “down the club” accompanied by a few pints, or at the chapel where we ate at long trestle tables and were served gallons of tea by middle aged ladies in hats and pinnies, who carried those massive brown enamel teapots which were central to every chapel social occasion.

And my God, those women had strong arms!

Cafés, fish and chip shops, peas and newspaper

In a café or restaurant frequented (but not often; going out for a sit-down meal was a rare treat) by people like my family, peas would be offered as a (paid for) extra with fish and chips (as was bread and butter – sliced diagonally, of course) but were never served at fish and chip shops. And don’t believe those who claim that fish and chips always went together with mushy peas. They didn’t. That was a much later development. Neither peas nor mushy peas could be safely wrapped in greaseproof paper and newspaper.

(A memory: if you took a pile of newspapers to Pearie’s chip shop in St Mark’s Road in Sunderland, you got three penn’orth of chips free.)

If you hunt for “British” ready meals in any supermarket (including M&S and Waitrose) you’ll find that, more often than not, the accompanying vegetables are peas and sliced carrots.

Eating peas

Now I have a problem, and it’s a serious one – I don’t know how to eat peas. My parents taught me to get a bit of mashed potato or a chip on the tines of the fork and squash the peas against it or at the chapel pie and pea supper you’d use a bit of the pastry as a kind of scoop or you’d squash the peas between a bit of pastry and a bit of meat.

And they’d still drop back onto the plate…

There was no shortcut: it was considered really “common” to turn your fork over and use it as a scoop.

No matter how you eat them (unless – Shock! Horror! – you use a spoon) (although you’d still need a fork or a knife to usher them onto it), you inevitably play a game of ‘chase the pea round the plate’, lengthening the time taken to eat the meal considerably.

So much effort for so little taste! For honestly, they’re not worth it.

And gravy-soaked peas dropping onto your shirtfront is emphatically not a good thing.

And mange tout

The French, with their customary culinary imagination, saved the day by inventing mange tout (which, being translated, means, “eat the bloody lot”) – eating the peas while still in their pods. It doesn’t improve the taste but it certainly cuts down on the physical effort involved.

(As an aside, I am willing to bet that Heston Blumenthal has, somewhere, a recipe for a whole pea plant cooked in soil and probably served with custard!)

You may by now have reached the conclusion that I am not a fan of the pea. ‘Tis true, I’m not. A childhood in which tins of Marrowfat Peas were always to be found in the kitchen did not enamour them to me.

I have no doubt that there are those who will tell me that they love peas, but then there are those who are into masochism or enjoy watching golf. I know it takes all kinds to make a world but I still cannot see the point of peas!

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