Purple fingers requisite for ‘royal living’

Published 2:41 am Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Are your fingertips purple? Does your thumb ache? What about your fingernails? Do they look like you have been grubbing in the dirt? Ah, ha. Do you recognize the symptoms? If so, you’ve been busy shelling peas and butterbeans, the first step toward loading your freezer for the months ahead.

If you are one of those people who can’t pass up a farmers’ market or vegetable stand without stopping, we are probably kindred souls. My mother was one of those. She got that uncontrollable urge to buy some of everything—squash, tomatoes, okra, butterbeans, melons and various kinds of peas. Although I am not nearly into that as I once was, I know she passed that overpowering desire on to me. She would shell, chop, blanche, and package until she was about to drop.

Having grown up with that influence, I have a thing about peas. If I cannot think of anything to cook, I head for my freezer where my hand automatically reaches for a package of peas. Then I mix up some cornbread, and slice some onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes. That, in my opinion, is the makings of a royal meal.

Once during the time my mother lived with my husband and me, we stopped at a roadside stand offering peas and bought two bushels at one whack. I am sure I would have restrained myself if it hadn’t happened on a weekend. What a job we had set out for ourselves. As soon as we got home, we spread them on newspapers all over the kitchen floor to keep them cool. Then we jumped right into the task by grabbing our pans and paper bags for hulls, and settled into comfortable chairs to begin shelling. When Mother returned to the kitchen for a refill, she joked that she was headed for the pea patch again.

During a telephone conversation with my daughter in the midst of all that shelling, I quipped that her grandmother had spent most of the day in a pea patch. She gasped. “You mean she’s been out picking peas in this hot weather?’ she asked. I knew she could picture my industrious mother in mind, wearing a sunbonnet and plunking peas in a bucket under the blazing sun. I quickly reassured her that we were shelling peas we had bought earlier.

It seemed as if we scattered peas everywhere that day. When we sat down to eat, we shared space with blanched peas spread out on a towel to cool at the other end of the table. A handful turned up in our chair cushions and on the floor around our chairs.

I left the shelling long enough to prepare a meal and wash and dry a load of clothes. Then I shelled some more. Bedtime forced us to stop, so we crammed what remained in the refrigerator fruit and vegetable bins. We started over the next day.

That year we ate like royalty, enjoying plenty of peas.


Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper business. Her column appears on Saturdays.