'Peas may we have some more' - young pickers help celebrate the great British pea
"I love peas and have been eating some while I’ve been picking," she whispers.
“I’ve never been in a field before. My mummy usually buys them when we go shopping.”
Britain’s annual pea harvest takes place each year from June to August, marking the busiest part of the season for the UK pea industry – but for Lincolnshire’s growers seeing children in the fields doing a job that now depends on machines oozes nostalgia.
The Eastern Seaboard is traditionally Lincolnshire’s pea growing hotspot, mainly due to its maritime climate which, combined with the soil and planting conditions, is the perfect environment for growing superior quality peas.
It is is home to some 700 pea growers and farmers, stretching from Suffolk right up to Dundee.
To celebrate Great British Pea Week, our newspaper joined a Yes Peas! campaign event, run alongside the British Growers Association.
Along with two classes from a Boston West Academy, we were guests of Stephen Francis, managing director Fen Peas, at one of the company’s fields in Kirton..
Fen Peas has 200 fields across the county – stretching from Friskney on the east coast to Beaver Castle and Navenby in the north of the county, Horncastle and Coningsby, and Deeping and Bourne in the south.
"It’s so nice to see children in the field – these days we harvest using machines but this is wonderful,” he said.
A third generation in the family business, Stephen says peas were in his DNA even before he was born.
"There’s a story that the night before my birth – in the days when pubs had lock-ins – my father phoned a local chip shop to place an order with peas to sort it out,” he said.
"Twenty minutes later I was in Boston General (hospital) being born.”
There was also the ‘Lion King’ moment before he was taken home. “The first thing when I left hospital I was taken taken to the factory and shown off.”
Every year two billion portions of peas are grown in Lincolnshire with the UK 90% self-sufficient in producing them.
Sewing begins in March and they are one of the easiest crops to grow. Stephen explained: “They are environmentally friendly because they self-fertilize the next crop.”
It takes just 150 minutes from harvest to frozen, ensuring the vegetable’s freshness is locked in.
Harvested Peas are delivered to Greenyard Frozen UK, who have two factories at Boston and King's Lynn freezing 45,000 tonnes of peas a year.
"Over the last 10 years the tonnage has increased by 20 per cent,” said Stuart Ashton of Greenyard Frozen UK. “Production is by demand and we start planning for next year now and are able to tell the farmers what land to secure.
"I don’t think enough is done to promote the effort that goes into to producing a packet of peas, so that is why days like this are so important.”
Coral Clark, Grower Representative for for UK Pea Growers based in Louth, described the freezing process as “nature’s pause button”.
"It means people can enjoy the fresh taste of peas all year round.
"It’s no wonder there is such a demand.
"They tick all the boxes – they are not expensive which is especially important now, nutritious,
“When they are frozen there’s no waste because you just use what you need
"They are more than a side – I love them sprinkled on salad.
"Peas are an easy way to get your five a day.”
Teacher Jade Brockington was one of the members of staff from Boston West Academy who went along to the field with 28 children from the Foundation stage.
As the children carried on picking, she said: “They have been absolutely buzzing to come here.
"I think there is a competition to see who can pick the most. From our point of view the visit has worked well with our learning outdoors.”
On average, each person in Britain eats nearly 9,000 peas per year.
We are 90% self-sufficient in peas as a nation.
British farmers produce about 160,000 tonnes of frozen peas each year.
The farmers and processors producing frozen peas get the majority of them from the field to the freezer in less than 150 minutes. That’s dedication right there…
No matter what the season, frozen garden peas are available all year round.
Peas are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, thiamine (B1), iron and phosphorus.
Peas are rich in protein, carbohydrate and fibre and low in fat.
BAKED CHICKEN, PEAS, GOAT’S CHEESE AND ROASTED TOMATOES WITH SPAGHETTI
8 chicken thighs, skin on
1 large red onion, cut into wedges
3 tbsp olive oil
150g tri-coloured vine cherry tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, crushed
150g goat’s cheese, torn into pieces
250g dried spaghetti
300g frozen peas, defrosted
A small handful of chopped parsley
A small handful of chopped basil leaves
Preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas 6.
Place the chicken thighs and red onion into a large roasting tin. Drizzle with 2 tbsp of olive oil, season with some salt and pepper and toss to coat.
Roast in the oven for 25 minutes then add the tomatoes and garlic and roast for a further 5 minutes until the tomatoes are just soft and the chicken cooked. Remove from the oven and top with the goat’s cheese.
Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the pack and add the peas 4 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Drain well and toss through the remaining olive oil and some salt and pepper.
Place the spaghetti and peas into a warm serving dish and top with the chicken, tomatoes and goat’s cheese.
Scatter some chopped parsley and basil leaves over the spaghetti and serve immediately.