Pea-shelling time in the South

Published 9:22 pm Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ah, summertime. It brings to mind hot, humid days; dipping my toes in salt water at the beach; running barefoot on hot sand; picnics beside a babbling brook; ice cream melting down the sides of cones and running on my fingers; spraying giggling children with a water hose; chasing lightning bugs, and even shelling peas.

“It’s full-blown summertime,” I said to myself one day as I drove along a road with woods on both sides of me. Trees in different stages of growth adorned in various shades of green filled the woods. Vines inched up poles and wrapped themselves around trees. Wildflowers peppered the roadside in erratic spurts. Tiny yellow butterflies flitted here and there. A red-winged hawk, perched high on an electric line, surveyed a field.

The temperature outside was well on its way to a high 90-degree mark. Those little wavelets that rise from a hot pavement danced in front of me. I luxuriated in the caresses of the cool breezes from my car air-conditioner. When I stepped outside at 8 a.m. on the way to an interview for a feature article, smothering heat wrapped its arms around me. On my way back to the office, I pondered over a lead for the feature.

I was approaching a small community when I passed a house with several people sitting on the porch. They had pans in their laps. Of course. It was a typical south Alabama scene. They were shelling peas. I was always on the look-out for a good feature photo for the newspaper. I knew I had one if those folks gave me permission to make their picture. I found a turn-around spot, back-tracked, pulled in the yard, grabbed my camera, and identified myself. It was a friendly, genial group, sitting there on the porch with a ceiling fan twirling above them as they laughed, talked, knocked away an occasional buzzing insect and shelled peas. And yes, it was fine with them if I made their picture for the newspaper.

That was years ago, but whether I buy a bushel to shell myself or pick up a bag already shelled at my favorite produce stand, I often think of those front porch pea shellers. That scene sometimes even comes to mind when I open a bag of peas from my freezer. Then it leads to memories of the many times my mother and I shelled and processed peas for the freezer after she came to live with my husband and me. If we purchased a bushel or two, we sometimes couldn’t handle all of them in one day. We put newspapers on the sun porch floor, and spread the remaining unshelled peas on them and left them overnight. (That prevented them from building up a heat.) We finished shelling, blanching, cooling, and packaging the peas early the next morning.

Even though pea shelling is work, I guess I’ll always associate that task with those lazy, leisurely things I enjoy about summertime.