As with most Southerners, I have been eating peas and butterbeans all my life. We wait all year for them “to come in”. The food that Southerners call peas are a summer crop and are distinctly different from the English pea or garden pea variety.
Since my history with this Southern delicacy is long, I thought I had just about eaten every variety of Southern pea known to mankind. Then, along comes one of the restaurants at Blackberry Farm serving up a variety of Southern pea called Washday Peas. Not only did this magnificent restaurant have Peas and Cornbread as a menu item, but they served this wonderful heirloom variety that was a new eating experience for me. I pray I never get to the point in my life that a bowl of peas and cornbread doesn’t excite me. The taste of Washday peas was alluring and intoxicating. I needed to find out more about them or bust wide open trying.
The Blackberry Farm restaurants get a lot of their produce from their gardens that are on the grounds. The next day, I made a beeline to the garden in hopes that I could spend some time with their Master Gardener, John Coykendall. My mission was two-fold: listen to every word John has to say about anything and everything because he’s fascinating AND find out about Washday Peas.
According to Mr. Coykendall, the pea gets its name from its utilitarian purpose. Back in the day, washing clothes was an all day job. After the back-breaking job of getting the laundry done, folks still had to be fed. Washday Peas became a favorite on washday because they were easy to shell and could be cooked in about the same amount of time that it took to cook a skillet of cornbread. They were considered fast food minus the drive-through.
I don’t have any of the heirloom seeds to plant and I’ve never known anyone, except Mr. Coykendall, that’s grown them. The taste reminds me of Split Peas. I eat Split Peas and dream that they’re Washday Peas freshly harvested from my garden. Thank goodness no one has ever been arrested for dreaming. I also appreciate hearing the hum and whirring of my washer and dryer.
Y’all come see us!
Slow-cooker Split Pea Soup
Split peas do not require soaking as do many dried beans. However, they do need to be rinsed before cooking. This soup is satisfying and easy to assemble. It uses ingredients that you are likely to have on hand in your refrigerator and pantry. Best of all, it just flat out tastes good. And it reminds me of Washday Peas.
1 (1 pound) package of dried split peas
2 cups diced cooked ham
3 carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1 medium sweet onion, diced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch fresh parsley
1 tablespoon Lawry’s Season-All Seasoned Salt
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
Layer all ingredients in stockpot in order. Do not stir. Cover and cook on high for 4 to 5 hours or low for 7 to 8 hours. When done, stir well before serving.