|clockwise from top left – lady cream, field,
purple hull, crowder
Good as it gets
The term ‘southern peas’ refers to hundreds of different varieties of peas and are subdivided into four main groups: Field peas, Crowder peas, Cream peas and Black-eyed peas and are often marketed as ‘dry peas’. Originally brought to the US from the Niger River basin of West Africa, field peas have been in the New World since colonial times.
Field peas became a staple food among poor residents in the deep American south, as they are drought tolerant and easily adaptable to varying types of soils.
~ Field varieties are normally of the Iron or Clay types with clay peas growing well on clay soils and iron peas growing well on red soils. Robust, these vine type plants usually with smaller seeds produce a dark liquid when cooked. There are various heirlooms available.
~ Crowders have a squarish shape, a result of their being densely packed inside the hull (hence the name); brown crowders have a deep, earthy starchy flavor, are the most prevalent in the south and normally cook up dark. Varieties include ‘Carolina,’ ‘Colossus 80’ and ‘Hercules’
~ Cream peas are from a smaller plant type with light colored seeds that cook up light. The light-hued, unblemished surface of cream peas accounts for the name, though the moniker is often attributed to the cooked peas’ butter-soft texture. Lady peas, also known as rice peas, are very small cream peas. Varieties include ‘Zipper Cream,’ ‘Carolina Cream’ and ‘Lady Cream’.
|Lady Cream Peas
~ Black-eyed peas have a ring around the hilum that looks like a black eye. Pink eye peas have a less dark ring than black eyes. The pink-eyed purple hull has a mottled hull and a red spot at the center of each pea. Varieties include ‘Pinkeye Purple Hull,’ ‘Dixielee,’ ‘Santee Early Pinkeye’ and ‘Queen Anne’.
By the way, the zipper cream, invented by a Florida agronomist in 1972, is actually a cross between a crowder pea and a cream pea and the variety gets its name from the fact that the peas can be whisked from their hull in a zipping motion. Most peas are easier in shelling if you wait a day after picking allowing them to dry out a little.
Now for my favorite way in cooking field peas. Enjoy!
Fresh Southern Peas
3 strips of bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
3 to 4 cups of fresh shelled peas, washed
4 cups of water
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Cook the bacon in a medium saucepan until crisp. Add onion, garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes until the onions begins to brown. Combine all other ingredients in the pan and bring to a rapid boil. Turn heat to low, taste seasonings adjusting if needed and gently simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until fork tender.
Note: Use ham or chicken broth instead of the bacon if desired. I also like to throw in a handful of green snap beans when cooking field peas.