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Snap peas are peas with fully edible pods. They are typically grown in the early spring, often maturing very quickly so that they become one of the first vegetables harvested. There are a number of ways to eat snap peas, with one popular method being the easiest: simply rinsing the peas and eating them whole as snacks. Many grocers carry snap peas in season, and they are also easy to grow at home.
These peas can be distinguished from the closely related snow pea, another pea with an edible pod, by the rounded shape of the pod. As snap peas mature, they also become slightly stringy, so older peas usually need to be “de-stringed” by pulling on one end of the pea to loosen the string before pulling the string out of the top of the pea. These peas are crunchy and very tender, with a sweet, very springy flavor.
In addition to being eaten plain out of hand, snap peas can be added to salads, tossed with pasta, or thrown into stir fries and other dishes, usually at the last minute, so that the peas retain some crunch. Cooking for an extended period can turn snap peas into a slimy mush, which is generally not desirable. Many people also like to eat them in simple dishes, so that the natural flavor of the peas comes through clearly.
You may hear snap peas referred to as sugarsnap peas or mange-touts, a French term meaning “eat-all,” in a reference to the idea that consumers can eat the whole pea. If snap peas are left on the vine too long, they can become a bit woody and oversized, so most people try to harvest early. Unused snap peas can be frozen for up to six months, ideally by laying the peas out on a large tray to freeze and then bagging or boxing the individually-frozen peas for storage in the long term.
If you want to grow snap peas, get some starts or seeds from a garden store, and pick a sunny spot in the garden with rich, well-drained soil. Plant the seeds in a line as soon as the soil is workable after the last frost, and plan on thinning them as the sprouts develop so that the pea plants have lots of room to grow. Provide the peas with a trellis to climb on as they grow, and keep them moist, but not soaking. As soon as pods start developing, you can start harvesting them.