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Southern Peas


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#1 annecros

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 06:57 AM

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has a great article online about Identifying and Cooking Field Peas.

I always get excited about field peas. I think they are one of the great, lesser known, gifts of the Southern agricultural tradition. From the article:

Field peas come in long, slender pods, 10 to 12 inches long. Butter bean pods are flat and crescent-shaped, 3 to 4 inches long. Green beans, haricots verts, snap beans, pole beans and runner beans are another genre altogether because you cook them in their shells.

Here's a look at some common Southern field peas:


I cannot readily purchase them fresh here in South Florida - I have to drive up into Central Florida to find them - so I grow them. In the freezer are Mississippi Silver Hull Crowders, Zipper Cream Peas, and Jackson Wonder Butterbeans. On the vine and nearly ready to pick are Pink Eye/Purple Hull.

I nearly always prepare them in the traditional method - as it is so good. I simmer a hock, literally a couple of hours very low, to make a broth. Then simmer the fresh peas for an hour, once again on very low. That's where I differ from the Atlanta Jounal's recommendation of 30-45 minutes. They must be using a higher temp.

Also, I can't stand machine shelled peas. They have no snaps and the peas themselves are often damaged by the process. The "stings" aren't always sorted out either. And, well, they just don't come across as fresh. Might as well buy frozen.

Do you guys do anything unusual with your field peas? I know it is hard to improve upon perfection, but I like to keep an open mind. Also, run across any unusual varieties? I want to try "Whipporwhill" as that is what I suspect that my grandfather was growing when I was little. I love Lady Fingers, but they are just too darn hard to shell!

What do you serve on the side? For me it is sliced tomato, a bit of bacon, and cucumber/onion salad.
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#2 Reignking

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 07:09 AM

The Charleston Post & Courier just had an article, as well.

#3 PopsicleToze

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 07:27 AM

In Southern Louisiana we typically season field peas with sausage and okra. Good stuff. :wub:
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#4 annecros

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 07:46 AM

In Southern Louisiana we typically season field peas with sausage and okra.  Good stuff. :wub:

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I do lay whole okra on top of my peas sometimes to steam during the end of cooking time. What kind of sausage? Smoked? Sounds good. And do you slice the okra? As if for frying or gumbo?

#5 PopsicleToze

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 07:51 AM

No, I don't slice the okra. Just keep it whole. It adds a great new dimension to the dish when it kindof oozes in your mouth. For the sausage, it's usually andouille, which is smoked and not as fatty as regular sausage.

You're making me hungry :rolleyes:
A plate of fresh field peas with a side of corn bread and iced tea is definitely in my immediate future this weekend. :biggrin:

#6 shellfishfiend

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 09:54 AM

Purple hull peas are our favorite. They really need a fresh sliced tomato and sliced cantaloupe on the side becasue that is what my grandmother always served with hers.

I cook mine long and slow, at least an hour. I also hate machine shelled peas. They are too mushed.

Growing up, my grandparents had a huge garden and always grew some peas. During pea season, my great aunts would come over and all the women would gather in the living room with paper bags for the shells and big bowls for the peas and we would watch sopa operas and visit. By the time the bushel or two was shelled, I would have purple fingers and new, wonderful family stories.

We often put pea relish on our peas. It is tomato based and is kind of sweet and sour. Good but hard to find unless you know someone who cans their own.
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#7 RAHiggins1

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 11:11 AM

Purple hull peas are our favorite. They really need a fresh sliced tomato and sliced cantaloupe on the side becasue that is what my grandmother always served with hers.

I cook mine long and slow, at least an hour. I also hate machine shelled peas. They are too mushed.

Growing up, my grandparents had a huge garden and always grew some peas. During pea season, my great aunts would come over and all the women would gather in the living room with paper bags for the shells and big bowls for the peas and we would watch sopa operas and visit. By the time the bushel or two was shelled, I would have purple fingers and new, wonderful family stories.

We often put pea relish on our peas. It is tomato based and is kind of sweet and sour. Good but hard to find unless you know someone who cans their own.

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That relish sounds like "Chow Chow".
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#8 shellfishfiend

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 12:41 PM

Purple hull peas are our favorite. They really need a fresh sliced tomato and sliced cantaloupe on the side becasue that is what my grandmother always served with hers.

I cook mine long and slow, at least an hour. I also hate machine shelled peas. They are too mushed.

Growing up, my grandparents had a huge garden and always grew some peas. During pea season, my great aunts would come over and all the women would gather in the living room with paper bags for the shells and big bowls for the peas and we would watch sopa operas and visit. By the time the bushel or two was shelled, I would have purple fingers and new, wonderful family stories.

We often put pea relish on our peas. It is tomato based and is kind of sweet and sour. Good but hard to find unless you know someone who cans their own.

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That relish sounds like "Chow Chow".

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No, the flavor profile might be similar, but not chow chow. There is tomato, sugar, vinegar, maybe a little pepper and garlic. It is cooked down and is thick and dark.
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#9 racheld

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Posted 25 July 2008 - 08:34 PM

Sounds kinda like my Mammaw's "Chillie Sauce" as it's listed in her little sheaf of recipes.

It's whole, peeled tomatoes, with some chopped onion and bell pepper (optional), some slices of the little keen green hot peppers---the only kind besides banana that I ever knew there were until I had my own kitchen.

Some sugar goes in, with about the same measure of vinegar, a bit of pickling salt, and a little cheesecloth-wrapped bundle of McCormick "mixed pickling spices." That's the only recipe I like to use those in---the bay leaves and peppers and maybe cloves give other pickles and relishes too much of a different taste from the way they've been cooked for a hundred years.

I can't remember too many times that Crowders, Purplehulls or other field peas were ever eaten without a garnish of chili sauce, pepper relish, chowchow or pickled onions. (Not the Brit kind, but paper-thin slices in a golden turmeric, vinegar, sugar brine).

The "chillie" is simmered in a white enamel pan, no cover, stirring most of the time with a flat wooden paddle. It was Mammaw's stated belief that "Tomatoes have too much acid to go bad," therefore no canned tomato preparations were ever even water-bath processed. I haven't made it in a long time. Right after we moved up here, people who came to eat with us called it Mississippi Salsa, and ate it on everything.

And I remember one of the first meals I cooked here for company---Chris was friends with two gentlemen from Nigeria, and I remember having pot roast and gravy, rice, and some peas from the freezer, along with several condiments and sauces. The two men solemnly spread a mound of rice over their plates, then anointed the whole mound with gravy and the chunks of beef. On top they scattered the peas, then large dollops of the chili sauce over all.

Not as it was intended to be eaten, I suppose, but they were most complimentary, and visited us many times before they returned home. On the last evening of their stay, they came to dinner in beautiful costumes, their most formal attire, with matching pastel pants and tunics and hats, to honor us as their hosts. :wub:

My Mammaw would have loved the way they liked Southern food.
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#10 annecros

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Posted 26 July 2008 - 05:10 AM

I've been wondering about the pea relish myself. Granddaddy loved chow chow, and taught me to scoop it up with the bacon, and follow with a spoon of peas. But I get the impression that the pea relish would be red. Chow is based upon green tomatoes.

Any other insights shellfishfiend? Is it a ketchup, or is there more of a texture?

#11 racheld

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Posted 26 July 2008 - 07:06 AM

These jars were a thick mixture of tomato, peppers, spices, vinegar, sugar, cooked long and slow to a thick spoonable sauce which just settled down over a spoonful of big old Crowder peas like butter on a biscuit.

Is it permitted to post a recipe here, or does it have to go in RG?
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#12 shellfishfiend

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Posted 26 July 2008 - 09:38 AM

I've been wondering about the pea relish myself. Granddaddy loved chow chow, and taught me to scoop it up with the bacon, and follow with a spoon of peas. But I get the impression that the pea relish would be red. Chow is based upon green tomatoes.

Any other insights shellfishfiend? Is it a ketchup, or is there more of a texture?

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Racheld's description sounds close. There might have been some cloves in it. I don't remember pickling spices. The texture was a little like slightly runny jam. It was a dark, brown-red color. It had a strong flavor. My momma, who loves peas, hates it. My daddy and my husband can't get enough of it.

I wish I could find a recipe so I could tell you exactly what was in it.
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#13 therese

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Posted 26 July 2008 - 09:55 AM

I don't find much difference in the machine-hulled and hand-hulled peas. Hulling by hand, particularly if done while sitting on a porch, is very relaxing.

I cook mine for a much shorter period of time, really just enough time to take the raw, slightly soapy edge off the taste, as I prefer the "waxy" texture of them (as opposed to the much softer texture that long cooking brings out).

I make them into a salad, generally with finely chopped country ham, sauteed onions, and a cider vinaigrette. My whole family loves them. Fights sometimes break out.
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#14 MarkinHouston

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Posted 02 December 2008 - 02:52 AM

I know it is past the season now, but I just saw this thread. Zipper Cream (or Lady Cream) peas seem to be too delicate for long cooking with a ham hock, etc. They are my favorite, and this is my preferred serving method:

Bring peas to a slow boil and then simmer about 15-20 minutes until barely tender. Drain and transfer to a bowl. Finely chop a shallot and 1/3 cup Italian parsley, then add to the peas. Mix up some lemon vinaigrette and add to the peas. Chill and then serve with tomatoes from the garden. Now that is summer in the south!

#15 annecros

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Posted 02 December 2008 - 05:53 AM

I know it is past the season now, but I just saw this thread. Zipper Cream (or Lady Cream) peas seem to be too delicate for long cooking with a ham hock, etc. They are my favorite, and this is my preferred serving method:

Bring peas to a slow boil and then simmer about 15-20 minutes until barely tender. Drain and transfer to a bowl. Finely chop a shallot and 1/3 cup Italian parsley, then add to the peas. Mix up some lemon vinaigrette and add to the peas. Chill and then serve with tomatoes from the garden. Now that is summer in the south!

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My family always called them "Lady Fingers" - and they were the dickens to shell! They would tear up your fingernails and fingertips. There was another one "Rice Peas" that was even tinier - literally the size of grains of long grain rice. They really only need a blanching in a good stock.

The Zipper Creams that I grow are a little bigger, and the built in "Zipper" makes them easier to shell. Hubby helps me shell, but he's just too slow. We became very skilled in the art in my family. In the Summer, if we wanted to sit down and watch TV or something, we had better have a pan of peas or butterbeans on our lap.

That sounds like a great way to eat peas. I guess I get into a rut with them, but we never have enough to get tired of them. If I had room to grow enough to keep them on hand, I would probably be more adventurous.

The old saying goes "Plant twice as many peas as you think you need, and you'll end up with half as many as you want."

#16 MarkinHouston

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Posted 02 December 2008 - 06:46 AM

I purchase my Lady Creams at a farmer's market so the cleaning is not an issue with them. I don't mind shelling purple hulls but their cooking process is more traditional, long simmering; I make Arkansas bacon and add that and onions to the peas during the simmer.

#17 onrushpam

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Posted 02 December 2008 - 07:51 AM

I know it is past the season now, but I just saw this thread. Zipper Cream (or Lady Cream) peas seem to be too delicate for long cooking with a ham hock, etc. They are my favorite, and this is my preferred serving method:

Bring peas to a slow boil and then simmer about 15-20 minutes until barely tender. Drain and transfer to a bowl. Finely chop a shallot and 1/3 cup Italian parsley, then add to the peas. Mix up some lemon vinaigrette and add to the peas. Chill and then serve with tomatoes from the garden. Now that is summer in the south!

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I do the same, but also add finely chopped red bell pepper and fresh corn kernels. Sometimes I use lime juice and cilantro instead of lemon juice and parsley. Yum.

When I want that porky flavor for the more delicate peas, I simmer the ham hock a good long time, then add the peas for just 20-30 minutes.

#18 Lan4Dawg

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Posted 06 December 2008 - 05:58 PM

Purple hull peas are our favorite. They really need a fresh sliced tomato and sliced cantaloupe on the side becasue that is what my grandmother always served with hers.

I cook mine long and slow, at least an hour. I also hate machine shelled peas. They are too mushed.

Growing up, my grandparents had a huge garden and always grew some peas. During pea season, my great aunts would come over and all the women would gather in the living room with paper bags for the shells and big bowls for the peas and we would watch sopa operas and visit. By the time the bushel or two was shelled, I would have purple fingers and new, wonderful family stories.

We often put pea relish on our peas. It is tomato based and is kind of sweet and sour. Good but hard to find unless you know someone who cans their own.

View Post



That relish sounds like "Chow Chow".

View Post


No, the flavor profile might be similar, but not chow chow. There is tomato, sugar, vinegar, maybe a little pepper and garlic. It is cooked down and is thick and dark.

View Post


there was always a jar of relish of some sort--pretty much any sort--on the table when peas were served. It was usually an onion/hot pepper/vinegar based relish w/a bit of a bite. The Rev always called it "swabbajigger". I once asked him why he called it that and his response was that he did not know but that is what his father called it. Since his father died when he was seven he had little time to research it. I hope there is nothing horribly offensive about the term (if so I must admit I am completely ignorant) and do not know if it was an accepted "Southernism" or just a family name but have never heard the term out side of our family so there is no telling. Any enlightenment would be appreciated.
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#19 Dave the Cook

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Posted 06 December 2008 - 07:56 PM

I purchase my Lady Creams at a farmer's market so the cleaning is not an issue with them. I don't mind shelling purple hulls but their cooking process is more traditional, long simmering; I make Arkansas bacon and add that and onions to the peas during the simmer.

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What is "Arkansas bacon"?

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#20 John DePaula

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Posted 06 December 2008 - 10:33 PM

I purchase my Lady Creams at a farmer's market so the cleaning is not an issue with them. I don't mind shelling purple hulls but their cooking process is more traditional, long simmering; I make Arkansas bacon and add that and onions to the peas during the simmer.

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What is "Arkansas bacon"?

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Arkansas Bacon and from the USDA Arkansas Style Bacon
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#21 MarkinHouston

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Posted 07 December 2008 - 01:05 PM

I purchase my Lady Creams at a farmer's market so the cleaning is not an issue with them. I don't mind shelling purple hulls but their cooking process is more traditional, long simmering; I make Arkansas bacon and add that and onions to the peas during the simmer.

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What is "Arkansas bacon"?

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Arkansas Bacon and from the USDA Arkansas Style Bacon

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The recipe that I use comes from Bruce Aidell's Complete Pork Cookbook. It differs from the USDA version cited by John in that the Boston butt is cured in a wet brine with molasses, water, brown sugar, instacure#1, and kosher salt among the ingredients. It might not meet the official requirements, but it makes good, lean bacon.

#22 CtznCane

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Posted 16 September 2009 - 08:46 PM

This past weekend I fixed purple hull peas for the first time. I'd found them the week before at the farmers market in Mayfield. I wasn't quite sure so I started by rendering some bacon pieces and then sweating a chopped onion. I added garlic and a touch of pepper flakes, then added the peas and covered them with about 50-50 chicken stock and water. I also added a couple of minced jalapeno's from the garden and s&p. I just cooked them till I thought they were done, on a low simmer for a bit over an hour. They turned out great. I'm hoping I can find some more this weekend.

Being new to this part of the country I wasn't familiar with purple hulls before coming here and wonder what other varieties are similar and what their normal availability is. I have the hunch I may not still find them, or at least not for much longer.
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#23 HungryC

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Posted 17 September 2009 - 07:02 AM

Has anybody grown peas during the fall? Just wondering how well they fared in the humid, coastal south...seems like pea plants are pretty cool-weather tolerant, but I dunno if they'll flower & set pods. I'm gonna try it and see.

#24 Katie Meadow

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Posted 17 September 2009 - 08:11 AM

This past weekend I fixed purple hull peas for the first time. I'd found them the week before at the farmers market in Mayfield. I wasn't quite sure so I started by rendering some bacon pieces and then sweating a chopped onion. I added garlic and a touch of pepper flakes, then added the peas and covered them with about 50-50 chicken stock and water. I also added a couple of minced jalapeno's from the garden and s&p. I just cooked them till I thought they were done, on a low simmer for a bit over an hour. They turned out great. I'm hoping I can find some more this weekend.


That's pretty much how I cook black eyed peas, although I don't recall cooking them as long as an hour. I will add a little fresh thyme, and if I have any small quantity frozen, use ham stock instead of chicken stock. I often add some chopped tomato after the garlic and onions have been sweated and before I add the stock. I like the peas over plain white rice or over sliced tomatoes, almost like a warm salad.

I wish I had access to more field peas, but here on the west coast there's a short black-eyed pea season, and that's about it. Although one vendor at the Berkeley Farmers' market has a limited quantity of fresh butterbeans for about two or three weeks out of the year, but they are gone fast if you don't get to the market early. A while ago someone on eG gave me a recipe from the Watershed restaurant that was a sinfully good way to cook butterbeans. The ingredients were: beans, ham, chives, butter and cream. What's not to like? I made it once, it was fabulous, and I realized I would have keeled over long ago if I ate like that regularly.

#25 CtznCane

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Posted 17 September 2009 - 08:40 AM

If there are any to be found there I'm sure Berkeley Bowl would have them. I use to live there and if anything was available fresh they'd have it. You might try Monterey Market as well but BB is the best shot.
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#26 annecros

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Posted 17 September 2009 - 09:46 AM

I'm bringing in purple hull peas this weekend. It is nearly the only type of crop that I can grow well in the heat and humidity in South Florida in August. Great low maintenance crop - they fix their own nitrogen in the soil - and the hotter and more humid it is the better they seem to perform. They are fungus prone, so a dose or two of Daconil is in order and not handling them or walking through them while they are damp from dew or rain is appropriate. Rotate something else between pea crops, because they also attract a mean namatode. I usually go with tomatoes or squash or even southern greens - as they are from different families.

I use ham stock as well on nearly all of my peas. Not that chicken stock would be bad at all.

I also freeze the "pea soup" and the few stray peas that always seem to be leftover to dump into a big pot of veg soup with corn, tomato and okra. Yum.

You should be able to find fresh peas in the south up until first frost. In fact, the ones right before first frost (that the farmers bring in because they know they will be destroyed) can be quite good. Usually young, and some immature snaps (that I love)! Just try them all - they are all good, and they all have their own distinctive flavor. You can also just make a big pot of snaps in broth, if the frost catches you.

They sometimes act as a main at my house, rather than a side, over rice.

#27 Katie Meadow

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Posted 17 September 2009 - 10:34 AM

If there are any to be found there I'm sure Berkeley Bowl would have them. I use to live there and if anything was available fresh they'd have it. You might try Monterey Market as well but BB is the best shot.


The Bowl has black-eyed peas right now, but I didn't see any other type of fresh shelling bean when I was there a few days ago.

#28 Butterbean

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Posted 10 February 2012 - 09:22 PM

Has anybody grown peas during the fall? Just wondering how well they fared in the humid, coastal south...seems like pea plants are pretty cool-weather tolerant, but I dunno if they'll flower & set pods. I'm gonna try it and see.


I grow them in spring and fall. I like the fall garden much better but if you have an early killing frost it can hurt you but most years its not a problem. Much more comfortable picking in the fall and the peas are sweeter.

#29 Zachary

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Posted 10 February 2012 - 09:53 PM

Southern peas are a love of mine, and while they're harder to find in Central Texas than in Houston, I'm avidly awaiting the pea season as we speak. My favorites are Lady Creams, then Purple Hulls, then Black Eyes. I'm not a fan of Crowder peas - they have a dull, starchy taste even when cooked.

For the more delicate peas, I like to saute a little bacon (well, a good amount of bacon), then throw in some onion or shallot and a little garlic. When all that's soft, some fresh thyme, a dash of cayenne, some pepper, and enough good chicken stock to cover the peas by a couple of inches. Simmer for 30-45 minutes until the peas are very tender, add salt and serve with the bacon on top.

Now there's a couple of ways to do this. I personally like to have cornbread and greens with my peas in a small bowl with enough of the cooking liquid to make things soupy - this is mainly because I love my chicken stock. Another nice touch is to have some hot peppers soaking in vinegar and add heat that way. Leftover peas get made into pea fritters, which are delicious.

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#30 Butterbean

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 06:52 AM

I like the lady peas and the zippers best. Next time you plant your fall garden try and locate some sugar anne peas. These are not cowpeas but a cross between an english and a snow pea and are used like snow peas. They are fantastic and grow well where cowpeas can be grown. I plant them a few weeks after the cowpeas and they do great.