Period Sugar Peas


2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Apr 18, 2019
Source: Wikimedia Commons

I picked the last of my snow peas yesterday just before the storm blew through and it set me to wondering when they were introduced to the US. I never ate any kind of edible pod peas as a child and first saw them in Asian dishes. I assumed this was a twentieth century food for Americans, which we developed a taste for in eating at Chinese restaurants. But I was wrong! In doing a little digging, I found our Civil War ancestors grew and ate edible pod peas! In fact, the snow pea was introduced into Asian cuisine from Europe - not the other way around. However, our fore-parents didn't eat the same sugar or snow peas we eat today. The varieties grown then died out (mostly it seems through lack of interest). What we eat today in the US is mostly a variety of edible pod peas developed in the 1950s and introduced to wide cultivation only in the 1970s.

Shepherdstown Register April 6, 1867

Edible pod peas were then, as now, known as sugar snap peas, or simply as sugar peas, or sometimes as "mangetout" peas from their French name (mange tout meaning 'eat all' in French). Multiple varieties were developed and newspapers listed which were best for home gardeners to try. I couldn't find any cookbooks that gave instructions on how they were cooked, but a gardening book had tips -

"The Sugar Peas have no inner tough film, or skin, to the pods, like the common sorts; they should therefore be boiled without shelling, and served up the same as Kidney Beans."

The Kitchen Gardener's Instructor" by Thomas Bridgeman, published in New York in 1860

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