Summer in the Deep South is hard on our bodies and spirits. The oppressive heat and humidity makes us wonder if we’re going to make it out alive. As miserable and grumpy as we get about the weather, summer is the season for some of our best fruits and vegetables. The crown jewel of Southern summer vegetables is Southern Field Peas. We wait all year long for the Southern Field Peas to “come in”. We love them more than we love our luggage. There are several different varieties and they all have interesting names: Conch, Lady Finger, Cream 40, Pink Eye, Purple Hull, Creamer…to name a few. If you are fortunate to have a large enough piece of property to grow your own, you are truly blessed. Otherwise, we buy them by the bushel, shell them, blanch them and put them in the freezer in quarts so we can enjoy them all year long. As you shell them, you always leave out a “mess” to cook for your supper that night.
Southern peas are very easy to cook. Cover them with water, add your seasonings and let them cook away. Some of the varieties take a long time to cook. The peas in the picture are Zipper peas and they need to cook about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Taste them for seasoning as you go along. That is the most important part about cooking peas that taste good. You’ve got to get your seasoning right. About 15 minutes before they’re done, I lay some whole okra pods on the top of the peas. The okra helps to flavor the peas PLUS you get to eat the okra. I love okra anyway you throw it at me.
Shelling peas is a summer ritual. Any kid in my generation and before who grew up in the South, has memories and stories of shelling peas on the porch. Many of us have some stories we can tell you about picking those same peas. Shelling takes time. It’s not a job you zip through while you stand up at the kitchen sink.
You better find you a comfortable place to “si’ down” because you’re gonna be there for a while. Grab something cold to drink, too, before you sit. Remember, we’re sitting on the porch…..in the summer….in the Deep South.
It’s hot as a firecracker.
Grab your citronella candle, too, while you’re at it. You’ll be sitting in that same chair on the same porch at dusk when the mosquitoes come out and try their dead level best to take you off somewhere. I’ve heard that colloquialism all my life,
“The mosquitoes are ’bout to take me off.”
I have no earthly idea the whereabouts of mosquitoes’ journeys and where folks think they might be trying to take you, but, someone has an idea about it, apparently. Anyway, translated, that statement means the mosquitoes are really bad.
Some ingenious person invented a pea sheller. That saves southern pea lovers a whole lot of time and effort. You can buy bags of shelled peas at stores and all you have to do is cook them. We buy them in the shells because the downside to pea shellers is that you don’t get snaps which are immature pea pods that are snapped instead of shelled. Those little snaps add a lot of flavor to the shelled peas. My husband, God love his sweet pea-shelling heart, is a master sheller. He works at shelling a bushel of peas all day long until he gets it done. My job is blanching, freezing and cooking. It works for us.
Amount of seasoning and degree of doneness is a matter of personal preference. In order to find out if your peas are cooked to your liking, you have to taste while their cooking and make adjustments as needed. The only way you’re going to find that out is to cook a pot and see for yourself. As they cook, they pick up some smokiness from the meat and salt amplifies the natural pea flavor.
I wish I could cook a pot of Southern Field Peas for all of you. They are truly a very magnificent thing.
Y’all come see us!
Southern Field Peas and Okra
yield: a mess (enough to feed your family a meal)
The crown jewel of Southern summer vegetables. A simple recipe for a delicious dish.
1 quart shelled Zipper peas (or your favorite variety)
2 tablespoon bacon drippings
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup whole okra pods
Place peas in a medium-sized pot and cover them with water. Add bacon dripping, salt and pepper. Cover and cook on medium to medium low heat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until cooked to your taste preference. Taste several time while cooking and adjust for seasonings. Add more water if needed.
During the last 15 minutes of cooking, add okra pods to the top of the peas. Cover and cook an additional 15 minutes.
Serve with cornbread.
Southern Field Peas and Okra
- 1 quart shelled Zipper peas or your favorite variety
- 2 tablespoon bacon drippings
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup whole okra pods
- Place peas in a medium sized pot and cover them with water. Add bacon dripping, salt and pepper. Cover and cook on medium to medium low heat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until cooked to your taste preference. Taste several time while cooking and adjust for seasonings. Add more water if needed.
- During the last 15 minutes of cooking, add okra pods to the top of the peas. Cover and cook an additional 15 minutes.
- Serve with cornbread.