If you don't grow English peas in a garden, your best chance of finding good ones is at a farm stand or local farmers market, where you can ask the farmer directly when they were picked. It is uncommon to find fresh shelling peas in the supermarket, and they are often starchy by the time they make it to the produce aisle. Select the pods yourself, one by one, rather than buying them in a pre-packed container, or you're likely to end up with some starchy ones in the mix. You don't need to be quite so fussy with edible pod peas, such as snow peas and sugar snaps, as they do not deteriorate so quickly.

How to select:

English peas: Look for bright green pods that are crisp, with small to medium peas still attached to the inside of the pod. Avoid pods that appear overcrowded with peas or where the peas are rattling around loosely inside the pod, a sign that they are old. Pale green or yellowing pods indicate that the peas within have turned mealy.

Edible pod peas: Snow peas should have thin, flat, nearly translucent pods through which you can see tiny, immature peas. For sugar snaps, look for plump, crisp pods with more mature peas. Some scarring or blemishes on the exterior of the pods is inevitable, but often it fades when the peas are cooked.

Pea shoots: Choose bright green, crisp-looking shoots that include the tendrils and two top leaves of the vine.

How to store:

Plan on cooking peas, especially English peas and pea shoots, on the day you purchase (or pick) them. If you must store them, place the unshelled peas in a plastic bag in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator. Wrap pea shoots in paper towels and place them in an open plastic bag in the refrigerator's vegetable bin.

How to clean:

Snap off the stem end of edible pod peas, then pull down to remove the strings on both sides. To shuck English peas, snap off the stem end, and pull down the string along the seam. Gently open the seam with your thumb and nudge out the peas. One pound of unshelled English peas will yield about one cup of shelled peas.

How to prepare:

Peas are best in simple preparations, such as in quick stir-fries, sauteed in butter or cream with chopped herbs, or blanched and tossed in salads or with pasta. Avoid overcooking peas; they will quickly lose their gorgeous color and their flavor will be compromised.

-- Domenica Marchetti