Sunday 22 November 2009

The Elusive Tuberous Rooted Pea

tuber peas

The tuberous rooted pea, Lathyrus tuberosus, came to me as seeds last autumn. I'd never heard of it before but researches on the web didn't turn up all that much. A small perennial climbing member of the pea family that produces edible tuberous nodules on the roots. No useful pictures (the one on Wiki looks like everlasting pea to me), no tasting notes.

Eventually I tracked down a short paragraph in Richard Mabey's Flora Britannica which states that the pea is a native of southern Europe, which was found growing wild in Fyfield, Essex and named Fyfield Pea for that reason. It was believed to have escaped from cultivation in Holland where it had been grown as a vegetable in the early 19th century. It should not be confused with the Bitter Vetch, Lathyrus linifolius.

All I could do was grow it and see what happened. I started the seeds in March 2009. You can see the seedlings here. A fairly weedy little plant that is alleged to suffer badly at the ravages of slugs.

Planted out in France in May the two plants grew on well enough and formed a low scrambling mat underneath the runner beans. They didn't seem to mind the lightly shady conditions but of course, I've nothing to measure their progress against. I think they might have climbed if they'd had the option. Pretty cerise flowers in August produced tiny pods each containing one or two seeds.

It was my intention to try to overwinter them in the ground with the expectation of much stronger growth next year but the deer attacks meant I had to rescue them and pot them up for the winter. Still, that meant I could examine the roots, and there were tubers! I don't know why I doubted it, but the plants were rather small and insignificant.

Not that the tubers were exactly huge, the biggest were rather smaller than one joint on my thumb. I cleaned and ate one raw. A bit chewy and fibrous, it had a sweet pleasant flavour of peas, which is perhaps unsurprising. One of the only recipes I could find suggested they should be roasted and would then taste like chestnuts, but chestnuts are the chicken of the vegetable tasting world. I think I'd prefer them to taste like peas. I'm sure the texture would be improved by better cultivation and watering - we had a dry summer in Northern France - which would make for quicker more tender growth.

So, that's it for the tuberous pea until next year. If the potted plants survive the winter we'll have a head start, but I have saved a few seeds and I think it's worth making the effort to try them again.


Rhizowen said...

Happy New year Catstripe

I grew some Lathyrus tuberosus from seed a couple of years ago. I've got some pictures somewhere. Slugs seem to love this plant with a fervour that impresses even hardened slug watchers such as me. I wonder whether its distribution in Britain is limited to the Essex area simply because this is the driest part of the country and the slugs are less likely to attack it.

I planted the one survivor out this year. I last saw it in early November, with filigree foliage and am not expecting great things of it when I'm well enough to go and lift my roots.

Rhizowen said...

Not well enough to spell your name right - sorry!

Patrick said...

I'm going to give this a go in 2010. I just posted about it. I still don't have the invasive grey slugs in my garden, I mostly only have Burgundy snails that don't eat much. Hopefully this won't be bothered much...

Catofstripes said...

Good luck with it, Patrick. My overwintered plants were looking very good when I set them out couple of weeks ago but I haven't been able to get back to check on them yet. Last year they didn't seem to suffer too badly from slugs so I'm hoping that will be the same this year.