A pea awareness week, aimed at improving people’s understanding of the crop’s provenance and heritage, has showcased the vegetable’s short harvesting season, which began in late June.
The UK is Europe’s largest producer and consumer of frozen peas and for six to eight weeks each year around 700 pea growers harvest 130,000 to 140,000 tonnes of peas. The average Brit eats nearly 9,000 peas a year.
Tim Mudge, commercial manager from the British Growers Association, which runs the Yes Peas! campaign, said: “Growing peas is a mainstay of livelihood for so many British farmers and very much a product of the seasons.
“We want to put peas firmly on the calendar and give consumers a reason to celebrate and enjoy this versatile and nutritional vegetable during the British harvesting season, as well as all year round.”
On Wednesday, members of the press were invited to the fields of the Fen Peas growing group near Boston in Lincolnshire. The peas cooperative – one of 20 in the UK – comprises over 80 growers, who share expensive harvesting and tenderising equipment, which checks the peas for ripeness before picking.
Each harvesting machine, known as a viner, is worth around £500,000.
Thanks to suppliers like these, Britain is 90 per cent self-sufficient in pea production, with 35,000 hectares of peas grown in the UK each year, equivalent to about 70,000 football pitches. The maritime climate on the UK’s east coast brings moist air and cool sea breezes, providing a perfect growing environment for the crop.
The picking process is a 24-hour operation, with viners running through the night to harvest the crop, before it is processed, frozen and stored, all within 150 minutes.
The other focus of the awareness week, and the wider Yes Peas! Campaign – which has been running since 2004 – is to promote the versatility of peas as a cooking ingredient.
Celebrity chef Rachel Green, who has been part of the national pea campaign for the past ten years, wants to encourage people to cook with peas in creative new ways, rather than just viewing them as an accompaniment.
She said: “People think that frozen peas are a side dish with fish fingers and chips. But actually there’s so much more to the humble pea. It is a great source of nutrients and a fantastic versatile product.”
Mudge added: “Because there’s been such a rise of other foods and ingredients, people have forgotten about peas and what we wanted to do was turn them from an accompaniment to a meal to a main ingredient. I think we’ve done that successfully.”
The other main advantage to frozen peas is that they can be stored by consumers for long periods and create less waste.