Field Peas

Late summer

All these peas are a gift to us from Africa, and are still widely grown there. Because they love a long, hot growing season, they’re perfect for our climate. If you live in Wisconsin, you’re not growing these peas. The Southern Seed Legacy offers dozens and dozens of southern peas.

These fresh peas should be stored in the bag you received them in and then eaten within a few days. They may keep a little longer, but the longer they sit, the more likely they are to spoil. The bag starts filling up with mold (don’t ask me how I know) and it’s disgusting. And what a waste!

You can freeze the peas (don’t tell anyone I said this) just as they come from the farm. Probably the right thing to do is to blanch them, but if I know I’m not going to have time to cook them right away (as they deserve), then I will just pop them in a freezer bag and off they go for long term storage. When ready to use, just drop them into the cooking liquid frozen and they’ll thaw and then cook quickly.

A few notes about Southern field peas:The “eye” is the hilum, the point where the pea is attached to the pod. Not all Southern peas have eyes. Lady peas are considered by many to be the most delicate, and they have no apparent eye. Pinkeye peas grow inside purple hulls, sometimes marbled, and have a slight sweetness. They go well with salty, porky and herbal backdrops – so cook them “southern-style” or cook them “Italian-style”, and you can’t go wrong.

Blackeye peas are slightly larger, and have a more floury texture than a pinkeye pea when they’re cooked. Traditionally they get that smoky-porky treatment, but they’re also delicious with coconut milk, ginger and other Asian flavorings.

Whenever a Southern pea appears in the box, thank the Swancys for doing the shelling for us. Shelling these things is tough. When asked how long it would take to shell enough Southern peas to make a meal, Chef Louis Osteen, formerly of Charleston and Pawley’s Island, is quoted as saying, “You set on the front porch and shell until the sun goes down.” How lucky we are that all we have to do is rinse and cook.