Asparagus peas (aka winged peas) are always written about enthusiastically in the seed catalogues: a taste of asparagus, but without the fuss. Sounds great. And yet, nobody grows them and this always makes me wonder if the reality is less exciting than the hype.
I started off my seeds in a heated propagator and they grew happily in pots and at the allotment. They took a little while to get going, but were fairly hardy little plants and survived quite happily without lots of watering and feeding. The plants are low growing, branching out from the centre. The leaves fold themselves up for the night (I always love this). The flowers are pretty – a deep red pea-style. The winged pods are also decorative. AND they are nitrogen fixers. All in all, a good result.
So, what’s the catch? Why doesn’t everybody grow them? Well, my hunch about the seed catalogue hype was right. This is not – at all – the tastiest vegetable you can grow. The packet suggested I ‘enjoy them lightly steamed and then dotted with butter’. I think ‘enjoy’ might have been stretching the point… They did sometimes have a hint of asparagus taste, but they do have a tough texture and an unusual astringent flavour which was less appealing.
Advice on reducing the toughness tends to recommend either picking pods when they are less than an inch long (didn’t work for me) or doing as James Wong suggests and cutting them crossways into little x’s. Prepared like this they were fine in soups and stir-fries. But possibly because this masked the taste.
Given that the pods appear in summer when there are so many easy, delicious alternatives, asparagus peas are not going to feature on my Top Ten Tasty Veg list.
However, despite an underwhelming performance in the kitchen asparagus peas will be on my list for next year. I found that I began to think of them in the same way as I do nasturtiums: a decorative plant which has the bonus of being edible (and nitrogen fixing).
So thumbs down as a vegetable, thumbs up as an ornamental green manure!