Gastronaut: give peas a chance

By Caroline Stacey
Friday 13 September 2013 04:30

My friend the Captain (a title he's adopted since joining the Birds Eye regiment of Unilever) has been taunting me. He insists his frozen peas are fresher than fresh. It's not a claim a gastronaut can take lying down.

Seasonality isn't the most delectable word to get your tongue round, but it's a vital noun in the gourmet vocab. There's still just time to catch the English pea season, but the harvest has probably passed you by.

Wine buffs keep a weather eye on the grapes' progress. We risk carmine-stained fingers to strip fruit from strawberry plants. Similarly, peas are whisked straight from the field in Lincolnshire or East Yorkshire to the factory in Hull (the largest pea freezer in the world) or Lowestoft before you can say "pod me". As likely as not, it's in the middle of the night. The poor human sods of Lincs and Yorks have to endure the pea harvest round the clock, day in, day out, for seven weeks. That's so the peas can be frozen within two hours of being picked. Peas start to lose vitamin C as soon as they're picked. Freezing them fast stops the nutrients vanishing. Minimum processing, maximum nutritional content: it makes them one of the marvels of the food industry. Grrr, I capitulate to the Captain. Before Clarence Birdseye clocked what happened to fish in the Arctic, peas were preserved by drying - that can't have done the vitamin C any good.

Reaching into the freezer means you'll be eating British peas all year round. We grow all our own. Our temperate climate (as it should be) suits them: slow growing makes them sweeter, more tender. If you insist on buying fresh peas in winter, they'll have come from as far as Zimbabwe.

I tried to find someone with a bad word to say about frozen peas. But even the august Oxford Companion to Food admits frozen are often freshest. A pea grower selling at farmers' markets for a couple more weeks deferred to Birds Eye for the rest of the year.

But why not pod your own while you still can? "I wouldn't advise it," says Colin Wright, agricultural general manager for Unilever Ice Cream and Frozen Foods. Of course he wouldn't. I would.

But only for another week or so, and only if you are sure they were picked within a couple of days of eating them. Just for the pleasure of prising them from the pod and eating them raw - the USP of unfrozen peas. It's an eccentric activity but for pod's sake don't let it die out - we don't want to give the Captain any more satisfaction.

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