Not like peas? Please!

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 16, 2011

“I beg your pardon?”

That’s what I wanted to say to the thirtysomething who said to me this week, “I don’t eat peas.”

I was trying to explain to her that the fact that peas and butterbeans are coming in is news; that generations of Alabamians have scheduled trips to the country when the vegetables were ripe to accommodate canning and freezing for the winter months; that today’s growers have waiting lists for fresh peas. I know: We’ve been on the list for weeks.

Not eat peas?

I always thought of them as one of two foods you could expect every kid to eat at a family reunion. Let them turn their noses up at dumplings, greens, or cornbread dressing, but you can almost always get them to eat a roll and a serving of peas.

Not eat peas? I asked her how she could profess to be a Southerner and not eat peas?

It’s simple, really. Though she was reared in Memphis, her parents weren’t native to the South. To her, “peas” are round and green, of the English variety, and have the faint flavor of a metal can.

Our granddaddy’s garden was a field, really, and supplied seven deep freezers with enough vegetables to last the winter. At the farmhouse in the 1970s, the window air conditioner was only plugged in at night, when the grands retreated to the coolness of their living room to shell peas and butterbeans. To say the yield was bountiful is an understatement.

Uncle Ben tells the story of being young-married at the farm with his bride in a summer when there was so much produce they were feeding the excess to the pigs. Later, he was studying in France, living on a student’s budget and hungry.

“All I could think about was all of those butterbeans at the farm,” he says.

He must have written that home in a letter that reached the ears of my grandmother, his mother-in-law. She always put butterbeans on the table when he visited.

These days we depend upon others to grow summer’s staples, but find ourselves welcoming friends and family who still come home to Alabama to stock up. Such is the case this weekend.

We plan to spread a table that would make my grandmother proud. With peas, butterbeans, tomatoes, okra, cucumber, squash and corn, we can’t go wrong. Add a side of pear relish and finish the meal off with peach cobbler and homemade ice cream and it’ll probably be enough to get them back to Alabama again next summer.

I’d invite my young thirtysomething friend to join us, but she doesn’t eat peas.

Bless her heart, she doesn’t know about grits, either.