Honey, can you pass the peas, please?

Published 11:59 pm Friday, July 24, 2009

When Southerners talk of peas they don’t mean English peas or green peas; they are talking about the hot summer favorites known also as cowpeas, field peas, black-eyed peas, or crowder peas. Most seed catalogues from the North don’t even sell the seed. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (www.southernexposure.com) has a good variety of Southern pea seed. RH Shumway (www.rhshumway.com) also has a large selection.

I am growing Pinkeye Purple Hull this year and can easily spot the pods as they change color to purple when they are ripe to pick. Shelling can be tedious so Mississippi Silver and Zipper Cream might be a good choice as they are touted to shell easier. Whippoorwill is said to have been brought from Africa during the slave trade and grown by Jefferson at Monticello. It was once the standard for Southern peas. Since high temperatures can cause flowers of green beans to fall off, Southern peas are a good choice for the summer garden and they can also be found locally this time of year shelled and unshelled from farmers and farm markets.

I haven’t tried it but one source said the green seeds can be roasted like peanuts.

If you do nothing else with field peas this summer, try this recipe from a lady in Kentucky. It is cool and refreshing on a hot summer day.

Hoppin’ John Salad

8 servings

½ cup cooked long-grain rice

2 cups fresh or frozen (peas freeze well but this is fresh season) black-eyed peas

2 tsp. salt, divided

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

1 clove garlic, pressed

¼ tsp. pepper

½ cup chopped celery

½ cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, chopped

¼ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, chopped

Prepare rice according to package directions. Meanwhile, cook peas and 1 tsp. salt in water to cover in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring often, 30 minutes or until tender.

Whisk together lemon juice, next four ingredients, and remaining 1 tsp. salt in a large bowl.

Stir in peas, rice, celery, parsley, and mint until blended. Cover and chill 2 hours. Season with salt to taste.

Scott Peacock from southeast Alabama uses lady peas, which he says are called white peas where he comes from. Lady peas “are especially delicate with an elegant flavor” per Frank Stitt of Birmingham. Instead of seasoning with a piece of meat Peacock uses his smoked pork stock. He also uses it for cooking greens, beans, and root vegetables and as a base for soups and stews.

Smoked Pork Stock

2 pounds cured and smoked pork shoulder

1 gallon water

Put the meat and water in a large stockpot and cook, covered, at a full simmer for 2 hours. Strain and discard the meat as it will have rendered all of its flavor. Cool, refrigerate for up to one week, or freeze for six months. Once chilled the fat can be removed if you wish.

He also suggests some substitutes:

1. Use a small slice of smoked, cured pork to make a quick stock: boil the meat in 6 cups of water for 30 minutes, covered. Remove the meat. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Dice four slices of good smoked bacon and render slowly in a pan until deeply browned. Remove the bacon bits. Put the fat and 6 cups of water in a saucepan and simmer for 15-20 minutes, season with salt and pepper.

3. Use chicken stock or vegetable stock.

Lady Peas Cooked in Pork Stock

4 cups shelled lady peas

2 ½ cups Smoked Pork Stock

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bring the peas and stock to a boil and use a slotted spoon to remove the foam and discard. When they stop foaming, simmer, covered, until the peas are tender but not mushy, about 30 minutes. Season and serve hot.

This recipe is from World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey (my favorite Indian cook). It is delicious and should be made a part of your repertoire of pea recipes.

Black-Eyes Peas with Herbs

Serves 4-6

1½ cups dried black-eyed peas or fresh peas

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 whole dried hot red chile

3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

2-3 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried oregano or 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano

½ teaspoon dried thyme or 1½ teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon paprika

1 ½ teaspoon salt

Pick over the black-eyed peas, wash, and drain. Soak the black-eyed peas overnight in water that covers them by 5 inches. Drain, discarding the soaking liquid. (If using fresh, cook for 20 minutes in salted water.) In a large pot, bring the peas and 4½ cups water to a boil. Cover, turn the heat to low, and simmer gently for 40 minutes or until the peas are tender. Set aside without draining.

Put the oil in a frying pan and place over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chile and stir once more; it should darken and puff up immediately. Quickly add the garlic and stir once. Add the black-eyed peas with all their cooking liquid, the bay leaves, oregano, thyme, paprika, and salt. Stir to mix and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently, uncovered, on low heat for 20 minutes. Serve hot.