Types of peas in the United States vary from region to region. In the South, the word peas refers to cowpeas. While most of the rest of the United States refers to them as green peas, Pisum sativum. To those in the South, these types of peas are referred to as English Peas.
The origins of green peas, P. Sativum, are diverse. They appear to have originated and been developed in middle Asia - Afghanastan and India - the near East and the plateaus and mountains of Ethiopia, where wild peas of related species grow.
The first peas were smaller and darker colored than the peas of the past thousand years. They were grown only for use as dry seed like split peas used in soups.
The Persians apparently bypassed Egypt and introduced them to the Romans and Greeks. During the Norman Conquests they were carried to England. Twelfth century records say that "Green peas for Lent" were stored in a Nunnery near London. However, they did not receive detailed written descriptions until the French described them in 1536, Edible-podded peas were also known at that time.
Pea cultivation and development began to spread. By the end of the 1700s, botanists in Belgium, Germany, and England described peas of all sizes, shapes and seed appearance. The English developed some of the most flavorful varieties and as a result, common shelled peas are often referred to as English Peas.
Although peas had been available as food for hundreds of years in Europe, they did not receive popular acclaim until the end of the 17th century, when they became a delicacy among the wealthy in France.
"This subject of peas continues to absorb all others," Madame de Maintenon of France wrote in 1696. "Some ladies, even after having supped at the Royal Table, and well supped too, returning to their own homes, at the risk of suffering from indigestion, will again eat peas before going to bed. It is both a fashion and a madness. "
The pea is the plant that was used by the famous Austrian monk, Gregor Johann Mendel, to pioneer research into the modern science of genetics.
Edible peas include all varieties that can be eaten with or without shelling. Some common varieties include English peas, snow peas, sugar peas, and snap peas. All types are tender and relatively sweet when eaten fresh.