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Peas and Beans - facts & history

The only commercially grown pulses in the UK seem to be the

  • Pea (Pisum sativum)
  • Fava bean = broad bean = field bean (Vicia faba)
  • Peas and Beans would have been the bulk crop for a medieval gardener representing the highest yield to seed ratio available, with some ancient varieties like the Martock Bean offering a better return than medieval wheat. Peas and Beans dry well and would be stored to keep the family fed throughout the winter. has a lot of info about peas... including:
●  During the Middle Ages, dried peas became a staple food of the European peasants. In their dried form peas had the capability of long storage throughout the winter months. They were inexpensive and plentiful and made a filling wholesome meal the poor could afford.
●   Peas became a familiar Lenten dish not only in France, but in England, too. Lent was not the only time that peas were a staple on the English menu. During the mid-1700's, major changes occurred in England's agricultural laws, designating large plots of farmland to private farming estates. King George III's Enclosures Act denied access to the poor, who relied on small pieces of land to grow enough to feed their families. Unable to grow their own vegetables, they turned to simple foods like dried peas that could be purchased cheaply.
●   During the reign of English King James I, 1566 to 1625, a shopkeeper could be heard touting his wares in the streets of London, "Hot Grey Peas and a suck of bacon."
●   More than 1,000 varieties of peas are in existence today, (some producing green peas, some yellow). Countries like France, China, Denmark, and Russia lead in the production of dried peas, with the U.S., England, Hungary, and India mainly producing fresh peas. China's fresh peas consist mostly of snow peas.
●   During the early 1600's the pudding cloth, a closely woven cotton or linen cloth, became a vessel that afforded more creativity to English cooking. Dried peas were soaked before going into the pudding cloth along with sugar, pepper, and mint. The pudding cloth was then tied and boiled in water to produce a very thick, solid Pease Pudding. Eventually, puddings were lightened with the addition of breadcrumbs, eggs, and butter.
●   To cook dried split peas, no soaking is needed. Simply put 1 cup (240 ml) into a saucepan, add 4 cups (1 liter) of water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to simmer, and cook about 50 to 60 minutes or until tender. Additional water may be needed to prevent the peas from cooking dry. Green split peas tend to break down after 60 minutes of cooking, creating a pleasantly thick soup base.
●   For cooking split yellow peas, follow the same method as for green split peas. However, they take slightly longer to become softened. Cook about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
●   Cooked dried peas make an ideal thickening agent for soups and stews.

In Middle English, "Pease" was treated as a mass noun, similar to "oatmeal", and the singular "pea" and plural "peas" arose by back-formation.

    An annual leguminous crop yielding from one to twelve seeds of variable size, shape, and color within a pod. Pulses are used for food and animal feed. Archaeologists have discovered traces of pulse production around Ravi River (Punjab), the seat of the Indus Valley civilization, dating circa 3300 BC. Meanwhile, evidence of lentil cultivation has also been found in Egyptian pyramids and dry pea seeds have been discovered in a Swiss village that are believed to date back to the Stone Age. Archaeological evidence suggests that these peas must have been grown in the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia regions at least 5,000 years ago and in Britain as early as the 11th century. The term "pulse", as used by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), is reserved for crops harvested solely for the dry seed. This excludes green beans and green peas, which are considered vegetable crops. Also excluded are crops that are mainly grown for oil extraction (oilseeds like soybeans and peanuts), and crops which are used exclusively for sowing (clovers, alfalfa). However, in common use these distinctions are not clearly made, and many of the varieties so classified and given below are also used as vegetables, with their beans in pods while young; cooked in whole cuisines; and sold for the purpose; for example, black eyed beans, lima beans and Toor or pigeon peas are thus eaten as fresh green beans, or cooked as part of a meal. Pulses are important food crops due to their high protein and essential amino acid content. Like many leguminous crops, pulses play a key role in crop rotation due to their ability to fix nitrogen.

Pulses provide protein, complex carbohydrates, and several vitamins and minerals. Like other plant-based foods, they contain no cholesterol and little fat or sodium. Pulses also provide iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and other minerals, which play a variety of roles in maintaining good health.  
Pulses are 20 to 25% protein by weight, which is double the protein content of wheat and three times that of rice. While pulses are generally high in protein, and the digestibility of that protein is also high, they often are relatively poor in the essential amino acid methionine. Grains consumed along with pulses form a complete diet of protein.
Pulses have significant nutritional and health advantages for consumers. They are the most important dietary predictor of survival in older people of different ethnicities, and in the Seven Countries Study, legume consumption was highly correlated with a reduced mortality from coronary heart disease. Furthermore, pulses are especially high in amylose starch making them a good source of prebiotic resistant starch.
For people with diabetes, consuming lentils, peas and beans helps control blood glucose management. Compared with some other carbohydrate sources, pulses have a lower glycemic index. Studies have also shown that consuming pulses can result in more stable blood glucose levels after meals.