A pea sprout nearly two inches long was recently found growing in a man’s lung. This may be carrying Candide’s admonition to “cultivate our garden” to extremes, but it does show how hardy the pea plant is. According to most reports the pea in question was an English pea.
English peas were first called that in the seventeenth century in the southern United States, to distinguish them from the more common black-eyed peas (of which I hope you had your share on New Year’s Day, to bring a prosperous twelve months). Known in England as simply “peas,” “garden peas,” and if very small, “petits pois,” or if still in the pod, “mange tout,” English peas were developed in several varieties in England in the sixteenth century and were brought to the colonies as early as 1620 by the Pilgrims. The term “English pea” has been found as early as 1634.
Peas were originally a singular collective noun—pease—like spinach or cabbage, but the “s” sound on the end made people think it was a plural, and so the singular pea came about as a back-formation.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is known for minding his peas and his cues, and offers this vegetable slumgullion for your delectation:
I think that I shall never see
A kumquat lovely as a pea.
A pea that is so round and green,
No finer pea has e’er been seen.
A pea that makes me salivate
To watch it roll around my plate.
It looks so juicy, firm, and plump,
Not like potatoes, in a lump.
A pea is perfect, has great class—
Unlike a bean, won’t give you gas.
My poems are read by fools like thee,
But only I can eat this pea.