My favorite part of gardening is growing food that is hard—if not impossible—to find at grocery stores. Pea shoots fall firmly into this category (unless you are lucky enough to live by a great Asian market). The shoots, which are the tips of the pea vines, make the most fantastic salad green. They look like a pretty pile of scrollwork on the plate. And they taste divine, too. Kind of like peas, only lighter and sweeter.
In the garden I plant my peas about an inch apart. This super close spacing allows me to pinch out every plant when the shoots are 4 to 6 inches tall and have a delicious salad. I let the remaining shoots grow and pinch them back once when they are about 12 to 18 inches tall. After that I let the vines grow so they can produce pods.
In order to have an ample supply of both pea shoots and pea pods, I have taken a cue from my friend Lorene and started growing peas exclusively for their shoots in a crate on my patio. I pinch back the shoots about once every 7 to 10 days and the peas respond by sending up even more shoots. The shoots from snow, sugar snap, and English peas are all delicious. Just don’t be tempted to sample pea shoots from sweet pea flowers—they are not edible.
So where do you pinch? Grab a shoot by its tip and trace the stem down past the emerging growth and past the next lowest leaf. Stop at the second large leaf down. If you look closely where the stem emerges from the leaf you might see a little chartreuse nub (see the arrow above). That is where you want to pinch.
By removing the growth above that little nub, you signal it to grow into a new shoot. Don’t see a nub? Just pinch as close as you can above the leaf. If the shoot feels a little tough, move up and pinch above the next highest leaf. Shoots that are 2 or 3 inches long are the most tender; 4 to 6 inch ones are also tasty but are best cooked briefly in a stir fry.
I took this picture just a couple of days after pinching the shoots back. As you can see the little nubs are starting to grow!
I’ve found that I can harvest the shoots growing in containers for 2 or even 3 months (depending on the heat). This means I’ve had a continual supply of shoots since early April and they are still going strong. The peas in my garden (‘Arrow’ and ‘Super Sugar Snap’) will be finished producing pods in the next week or so. Before I pull the vines out, I will pinch back the tips for one last harvest of pea shoots.
I also planted some seeds in a little terracotta pot that was hanging around in our garage. I’m using it as centerpiece on our patio table. When we are sitting outside in the evening we often just pinch the shoots back from the centerpiece and snack on them. It’s such a luxury!