10 RARE AND DELICIOUS HERITAGE AND HEIRLOOM PEA VARIETIES TO GROW FOR MAXIMUM FLAVOUR

I have more than thirty varieties of peas in my collection; many from the Heritage Seed Library (HSL).  I have been given peas and discovered them in most countries I have visited over the years.  So, listing my top ten favourites hasn’t been easy as pretty much every pea I grow is utterly yummy!

10. HANGMAN'S DOOR

This is a true mystery pea.  I have no recollection of how it found its way into my library, not how it got its chilling name.  But I am glad I have it and whoever gave it to me.  THe pea grows to about 1.5 metres, with pretty purple flowers and pods which yield up to eight sweet and tasty peas.  Does realy well in a large pot with support

9. TOM THUMB

Very appropriately named, this  gorgeous little pea only grows to about 50cms so needs no support.  Very heavy crops of large pods containing up to eight peas.  Fantatsic in a small space, a large container or the front of a flower bed.

8. THE BREAM BLACK PEA

From the Forest of Dean, this fabulous heirloom came to the village of Bream about thirty years ago or more with the new vicar, whose family had been growing it in SE England.  Given to me by a local resident this tall pea yields heavy crops of purple podded peas that start almost black – hence the name.  Very rare and tasty too

7. CHAMPION OF ENGLAND

This glorious pea was brought back from the brink by the HSL and is now for sale commercially once again.  An RHS prize winner it was considered one of the top ten best peas bred in the UK nearly 150 years ago and remains, for me one of the finest one can eat.  Looks great in the border too.

6. ROI DE CAROUBY SNOW PEA

A totally sensational giant mange-tout bred in France in the nineteenth century.  Magnificent flavour eaten raw or very gently steamed or stir-fried. A minute in the pan is enough.  Very rare and held by the HSL.  Grows brilliantly in a large pot with support as it is tall (1.8 metres)

5. ROBINSON

This superb pea was my favourite until just a few years ago.  Held by the HSL, it was originally bred in Scotland but grown in Leicestershire since the 1950’s by someone who was given them by a Mr Robinson.  Tall, prolific and unimpeachably delicious.  Just one of the great peas; long pods with 10 sweet peas within.

4. LUANG PRABANG aka MAIDEN'S BLUSH MANGE TOUT

I discovered this glorious mange-tout in a market in Luang Prabang, Laos and it is one of the great peas in my library.  Very heavy cropping, the young pods have a pink blush – hence the name.  Crops over a long period and being a genuine heirloom can also be eaten as a shelled pea or left to dry for winter soups and stews – assuming of course that there are any left on the vines!  Just fabulous.

3. COCKPIT

An ex-commercial variety of tall pea to 1.5 metres with hyper-tendrils which makes it very easy to stake.  Saved by a lady from an original packet forgotten in her garage and donated to the HSL, this magnificent pea can be grown through the winter with protection.  Very heavy crops of large pods filled with super-sweet peas.  Wonderful.

2. JAUNE DE MADRAS MANGE TOUT

This pea ws given to me by a Dutch friend at the Utrecht gene bank. Jaune de Madras was one of the yellow peas that Gregor Mendel grew when working on plant genetics.  Bred by Andrieux Vilmorin in France in the mid nineteenth century and believed to come from India, this sensational mange-tout, my favourite is not only utterly delicious but stunning.  As happy in a large container, the flower border or the kitchen garden, I couldn’t imagine not growing it most years.

1. AVI JOAN

This is, for me, the greatest of all peas.  Given to me by a fellow seed saver, Jesus Vargas, from Catalonia, it was bred by his wife’s grandfather and named after her grandmother.  It grows to around three metres if allowed with huge, white flowers that the bees adore.  Followed by large pods of the sweetest and tastiest peas imaginable.  Very rare indeed – until I met Jesus he was the only person growing it – now I share seeds and it is safely held in the Heritage Seed Library for all time.

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