Heritage vegetable review
Irish Preans   Irish Preans flowers

Age: unknown
Background: originally from an Agricultural Research Station in Ireland, came to the Heritage Seed Library via the Saltburn Allotment Society.
My supplier: Heritage Seed Library
Pros: tall and attractive
Cons: incredibly slow to mature, needs very tall supports

I was attracted to this pea by its unusualness, and couldn't resist trying it out. For one thing, it was unusually tall with colourful flowers. More intriguingly though, it was suggested that it was a cross between a pea and a broad bean. That's something I've never seen and found difficult to imagine. Peas (Pisum sativum) are only distantly related to broad beans (Vicia faba) and such "wide crosses" between disparate species are rare and very difficult to do.

 
 
 
   

A first glance at the seeds from the Heritage Seed Library (for whom I was growing this as a Seed Guardian) seemed to back up the idea that this was a broad bean hybrid. The seeds are very large indeed, olive-tan in colour and somewhat flat, similar to Dutch Capucjiners but larger. They do resemble small old-fashioned broad beans such as the ancient Martock variety. They even have a black hilum, which is unusual in peas but common in broad beans.

Once I started growing the plants though, I had to concede that the broad bean thing is most likely a myth. That's just my opinion of course and I'm open to being proved wrong, but there was really not a single trait in Irish Preans which could have come from a broad bean, other than the appearance of the seeds. In every respect it looked and grew like a normal pea. If a cross between Pisum sativum and Vicia faba is possible, and I don't know that it is, I would expect it to have a lot more variability and at least some distinct traits from both parent varieties. This one is Pisum sativum all the way through. All its traits are pea traits.

That's not to say Irish Preans is a typical pea. It's exceedingly tall ... in excess of 8 feet ... and needs something suitably tall and sturdy to climb up. It may also need regular tying-in to prevent it from flopping over. I'm used to growing tall peas but I found it difficult to find anything robust enough to support this supersize variety. Growth is voluptuous and the leaf axils have a small smudge of pink pigmentation at the base. The other thing that sets it apart is that it's incredibly late-maturing. The latest I've ever grown, in fact. All the other peas in the garden grew, set flowers and set pods, and still Irish Preans was a mountain of foliage showing no hint of flower buds. I had already harvested most other varieties by the time the first little clusters of buds appeared.

    Irish Preans buds

It may take its time to produce buds, but when it does they appear in tight clusters and the flowers open in rapid succession. That's a trait much prized in commercial varieties as it leads to the ripening of the crop all at once, but it's not so desirable in the garden where a steady yield over a longer season is more useful.

The flowers are beautiful, the bicolour pink and maroon type commonly associated with purple podded peas (although Irish Preans is a green podded variety) and consistently borne in pairs. As is usual with this flower colour, they take on a mauve-blue hue as they fade.

And after the flowers come the pods, also in pairs of course, and forming an abundance of medium-sized flat green pods which make good mangetouts. They taste sweet, are relatively stringless and free from any obvious fibre layer. I would suggest this is a better way to eat them than leaving them to mature, which yields only 4 or 5 peas per pod. The fresh peas are large and pleasant enough to eat but there is a slight mealiness in the texture.

     

Photo: The seeds are unusually large and somewhat bean shaped, with a black hilum.

Overall the yields were pretty good on my crop but I did have some problems. I was growing the crop for seed rather than for eating, but the atrocious weather right through August 2008 meant the pods were relentlessly soaked just as they were reaching the maturing and drying stage. They had no chance to dry out which led to high levels of mould spoilage. Even after I harvested them and tried to dry them indoors, the mould was a problem. None of this is the variety's fault; it was bad luck with the weather and if I'd harvested it at the eating stage rather than for seed there wouldn't have been a problem. But it's worth being aware that Irish Preans does have an increased risk of being affected by the weather because it's so slow developing and it needs to be sown early enough in the season to allow it time to mature fully.

I didn't try eating them as a soup pea, but given its apparent similarity to Capucjiners it might be worth giving that a go.

  Irish Preans seeds
   

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Text and images © Rebsie Fairholm. All rights reserved.