Found in archaeological sites dating as far back as 7000 BCE, peas have long been a favorite vegetable. Their origin has been lost to history, although historians believe they are native to the Middle East. Today, they're ubiquitous on dinner tables, popular in most parts of the world.
Many believe the English word for “pea” evolved from the Old English word “pise.” Others believe it came from the Latin “Pisum,” and still others believe it came from the Sanskrit word for pea.
The child's nursery rhyme: “Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot, nine days old,” refers to a thick porridge made of dried peas that was widely eaten in English and Scottish homes from the Middle Ages through the 17th century. Dried peas were the basis of the thick, porridge-like stew that was flavored with bacon and the addition of whatever vegetables were ripe or available.
In the past, peas have not been eaten fresh. They were dried to be used in times of famine until the late 17th century. At this time Europeans begin eating fresh peas, which were considered a fashionable delicacy. It is believed that the Chinese first developed pea varieties to be eaten fresh.
Peas were one of the first vegetables brought to and planted in America by pioneers. Thomas Jefferson, founding father and 3rd president of the United States, who was also an avid gardener, grow at least 30 varieties of peas. A French gardening encyclopedia of the time devoted no less than 50 pages to listing available varieties of cultivated peas.
Today's peas come in three main types: English, or garden peas; edible podded “snap” peas which snap like green beans and are eaten when the peas inside are plump and mature; and snow peas, another edible podded pea eaten when the peas inside are small and immature.