In the Southern Hall of Fame, field peas fit right in with the likes of Dolly Parton, pimiento cheese, and Spanish moss. Once considered a plentiful, drought-resistant staple for those with little else to eat, they’ve been boiling alongside fatback and onions since colonial times. Now, you’re just as likely to find them in acclaimed restaurants like Charleston’s Husk as you are in old-school soul food joints like Mama Dean’s in Fayetteville.
They come in just as many forms and names as there are ways to eat them: zipper, crowder, Sadandy, whippoorwill, purple hull, zipper, lady, turkey craw, and Mississippi Silver. When I would buy pink-eyed peas from one of my favorite vendors at the Forysth Farmers Market in Savannah, he would tell me he missed his swing at them and that’s why they weren’t black-eyed.
So whether you’re a super fan or just starting out, here are some tips and recipes for making the most out this pea season’s end.
- Most farmers markets and some grocery stores like Piggly Wiggly and Whole Foods sell already shelled peas, which may seem like a gift from above if you recall summers spent shelling on the porch. But much like making a pie crust from scratch, there is something to be said for shelling them yourself if you’ve got the time.
- If you are buying field peas still in their shells, look for flexible, full-feeling pods. In regards to those already shelled, they should smell and appear fresh.
- The next time you’re at the market, go survivalist and buy as many field peas as you can. In the words of Annelle from Steel Magnolias, they “freeze beautifully.” Just blanch covered for two minutes in boiling water, immediately submerge in ice water, and pack into freezer containers with a half-inch of head space or in plastic bags with the air pressed out. You’re going to need some anyhow for New Years Day.
- And for goodness sakes, don’t throw away that potlikker after simmering your peas. It’s just a sin. At least sop it up with your favorite cornbread or use it for a soup base.
What to Make
Don’t fuss finding the specific field pea or butter bean a recipe calls for. Most can be substituted for one another. Try these field pea recipes below and let us know what your favorite variety is.