8th Jul 2021 | News Articles
July is upon us and time to celebrate one of Britain’s finest native crops.
We’re not talking about the strawberries of Wimbledon, nor the asparagus of Worcestershire but a crop that can be enjoyed all year round – the humble pea.
Whether they are eaten raw or cooked, in the pod or shelled, peas taste delicious and their sweet tendrils can brighten up the blandest of salads. The mushy version may not have the same universal appeal but it’s a definitely ‘yes peas’ as far as we are concerned.
The good news for us British pea lovers is that the maritime climate of the east coast provides perfect growing conditions. For six weeks during early summer, a meticulously planned, round the clock operation sees 160,000 tonnes of the delicious crop collected from 700 pea farms stretching from Sussex to Dundee.
And thanks to the genius of Clarence Birdseye, Britain is virtually self-sufficient on the pea front and able to enjoy them all year round.
Despite the commercials that suggest otherwise, Birdseye wasn’t a Captain, nor did he look like Uncle Albert out of Fools and Horses.
Clarence Birdseye was raised at the turn of the 20th century and had a fascination with nature, finding work as a teenager with the US Ministry of Agriculture.
On a visit to Canada, he was taught by the Inuit how to fish beneath ice that was 40 inch thick. He noted how when the fish were reeled in and killed, they froze almost instantly and when thawed they tasted fresh and far superior to the mushy frozen seafood of his native New York.
Birdseye realised the key to sealing in freshness was early, swift, freezing and invented a string of machines that would refine this process – creating the modern frozen food industry, making him a multi-millionaire and leading to the company that bears his name. The technical innovations he began mean nowadays British peas can be harvested, shelled and transported from field to frozen in under three hours.
Great British Pea Week is an apt time to recognise the versatility of this delightful legume but the pea itself has a claim to fame far greater than simply a nourishing snack, it played a vital part in the science of modern genetics and the discovery of DNA.
The Austrian monk Gregor Mendel spent eight years studying and meticulously recording the hereditary characteristics of over 5,000 pea plants.
His findings, published in 1865, would eventually lead to the science of genetics and a far greater understanding of inherited characteristics in plants and animals.
Mendelian Inheritance outlines how a trait can lay dormant in off-spring but re-appear in future generations. This may explain why some people love mushy peas and some don’t – they latter of course are wrong!