Crowder, Dixie Lee, Mississippi Silver, Old Timer, White Acre, Red Ripper, Big Boy, Stick Up, Pole Cat, Wash Day, Rattle Snake, Purple Hull, Bird, Iron Clay…these are just a few of the eclectic names for the beloved summer southern crop known as the Field Pea. Why so many names? There are hundreds of names for the little peas because there are hundreds of varieties, each special in their own way. During this relentless, humid, hotter than Hades weather here in the South; it helps to know our beloved Field Pea is now in season!
In the summertime, at the Farmer’s Market, these little peas are a prized commodity. They are as classic of an icon to the southern table as Sweet Tea, Fried Chicken, and Cornbread; but rarely heard of up North. What makes these tiny peas so special? When cooked properly, these tender peas are full of flavor unique to only themselves. And no; they are nothing like the dull flavored canned Peas… Their freshness from the garden is what makes them so good. It really is best to eat them in the summer time. But because you can’t get them in the winter, many people freeze them for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Sunday dinners.
There is an art form in cooking our southern peas. If you add too much water, they will lack in flavor. If you add too little water, they will turn out crunchy. Most cooks add in a form of pork, whether it be bacon drippings, fatback, ham hock, or salted pork… The meat not only develops the flavor but also acts as a thickener to the bean pot.
If you cook a pot a field peas, top them with tomatoes, hot peppers, and or onions, and serve with a side of cornbread; you have a delicious, warm, flavorful meal. We call these types of dishes Soul Food because they make your belly full and your heart warm. My Mother-In-Law and Father-In-Law make the best Field Peas. After years of practicing, I am getting close, but I will never make them quite as good as they do.
- 4 cups fresh shelled field peas, any variety
- 2½ cups water (you can substitute chicken stock)
- One small slice (about 1½ ounces) of salt pork
- OR 2 teaspoons of bacon grease
- OR you can use a few small pieces of fresh pork belly or fatback that you precooked slowly in a pan until well browned
- Salt and Peper to Taste
- Optional: Top with fresh chopped tomatoes, hot peppers, and onions.
- Put the peas in a pot and cover with water or stock. Add in your fat seasoning.
- Bring to a boil over med-high heat.
- If foam develops, remove foam.
- Boil for 2 minutes, then reduce heat. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until peas are perfectly tender, but not overcooked.
- Taste for seasoning.
- Serve by itself or with a side of cornbread.