To say we are passionate about peas in Canterbury is an understatement. Peas are the cornerstone of the Wattie’s frozen business in the South Island. Our Wattie’s Agronomists Simon, Nigel, Phil and Maddie live and breathe these pods of perfection everyday working to help bring peas to Kiwis all year round. Just look for the NZ Grown label on pack!
Wattie’s funds a pea breeding programme based at Plant & Food Research, Lincoln. The breeding effort has been continuous for all the time the Christchurch factory has existed. It has a strong Wattie’s focus, to find a pea which grows well for farmers in Canterbury’s geography and climate, whilst meeting our customer expectations for superior eating quality. One of the newer varieties to come through this programme has been named ‘Cawood’ – after long time Agricultural Manager Ron Cawood who was sent down to Christchurch by Sir James before the factory was built to find growers to grow peas for Wattie’s.
There are approximately 220 growers spread across the central Canterbury plains who grow for Wattie’s. From sea level near the Pacific coast to right up in the foothills of the Alps at about 300m above sea level, and then from right next door to the factory at Hornby to about 85km away at Methven. The sight is spectacular over the months of October to February where as far as the eye can see are fields of pea plants flowering.
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During harvesting over the months of December to February Heinz Wattie’s have 6 harvesters working hard 24 hours a day to gather all the peas for processing. These machines are owned and operated by Wattie’s and are manufactured in the UK specifically for the harvesting of peas.
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Our pea tenderometer crushes the peas to give a reading of tenderness.
Firstly we take the peas from their pods and put them into the tenderometer. The tenderometer then has two sets of stainless steel jaws which pass by each other crushing the peas on the way and giving a measure of tenderness dependant on the pressure to crush the peas. That way we can grade all of our peas we harvest based on tenderness.
There is a surprisingly short window of time during which each crop is at peak eating quality for harvest – we can’t go too early and we can’t be late. The window is about 2 days but it can be less in really hot weather and it is longer if conditions are cool or wet. There’s a real science in getting this right and years of expertise to pick peas at the perfect time.
It’s also critical to get peas snap frozen as quickly as possible. They’re immediately washed, blanched and frozen while the eating quality is optimal. So the harvest requires a huge team effort and lastly some good luck with weather.
Ever wondered why baby peas are so sweet and tender? They’re special as these baby peas are from later-formed pods higher up the vine. At harvest time there is a mixture of older peas lower down the vine from the first flowers to open, up to younger peas higher up the vine from later flowers. The factory has a clever way to separate out the babies which are the most sweet and tender.