Southern cowpea, butterbean & legume greed

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field peas

Here’s why you should slow down and take the back roads. You might run into a Georgia roadside stand with zipper peas, crowder peas, lady peas, and pink-eyed peas. Honey sweet peaches, silver queen corn, and greasy beans. As if that’s not enough, along comes the roadside Spring Creek dairy with fresh churned buttermilk, butter, cheese and ice cream. It’s summer in the south.

osage farms

 There’s a whole other world just down the mountain from this summer’s rainy chilly Asheville. It’s 23 minutes longer to take 441 instead of I-85 to Atlanta to visit our daughter, Rita. So says Google maps, but they’re wrong. It’s a good two hours and possibly two days/weeks/months longer because there’s so many fun things to do along the way. Roadside vegetable and dairy stands, scores of antique stores, “Goats on the Roof” (not kidding),  picnicking, and the drop-dead-gorgeous Smoky mountains.

sharing lunch

This is not a goat on the roof, but it is a goat. On the right is my nephew, the coolest little kid ever. Anyway, Rita and I ended our sweet visit on Monday by going to the DeKalb international farmer’s market in Atlanta. Holy moly, if you ever get a chance, go there. Food and people from everywhere on earth it seems. I spotted fresh chickpeas and pretty much grabbed all that were left, being as I’ve never had them before. It was the beginning of legume greed. Now I  have legume tummy, which I will spare you the details of, but it’s worth it. So here’s my official advice, if you see a shelled peas sign like this at a roadside stand …  seize the zipper. I bought 5 pints that were already shelled ($4 is a good deal), but shelling is fun if you get a chance.


Shelled peas

In case you’re not familiar with southern “peas”, they’re really not peas like the green ones that come to mind, but they are legumes. And according to Clemson University, there are four types of peas: Field, Crowder, Cream, and Black-eyed. Zipper, butter peas and lady peas are cream peas; they have a light colored broth. Crowder peas are dark brown and create a dark, ruddy broth. Pink-eyed peas are a black-eye pea with a dark-ish broth. And butter beans are not peas, they are beans. Not limas, no no no, they are butter beans, not to be confused with butter peas. They are so good when fresh,  simmered with silver queen corn, they will make you weep buxom salty southern tears.

succotashCook them until tender in a little water, about 30 minutes and add a dash of cream and salt or stir in some corn and garnish with a Cherokee purple tomato and some red onion, maybe a pinch of hot red pepper (and, if you dare, a little “seasoning meat” aka smoky bacon, streaky meat, ham, etc.). Just eat that for lunch while sitting on a stump in the yard, nothing else, just that. Now, even though I live up the mountain from where southern peas grow, I learned to cook from Grandmother Maudie, who was from Mississippi and she cooked West Virginia beans as though she lived in the deep south. With a little bit of bacon. And bacon doesn’t get any better than Mr. Benton’s from just outside of Knoxville, TN. Check out this wonderful video.

Benton bacon

Cook up a couple pieces of good bacon and cover your fresh peas with water and cook until tender, about 30 minutes or so. Eat these peas in a bowl and do not waste one drop of pot likker! Or you can drop in a few cornmeal dumplings, which is what we will do in the pea and pickle class I will be teaching next week. I like to keep it simple, but every southern family has their own way of serving the different varieties of southern shelled peas and I’m not messing with anybody’s traditions!

Roasted fresh chickpeas

And if you live anywhere near where fresh chickpeas grow (on the west coast mostly, I believe, though they’re trying to get them growing in Virginia’s former tobacco fields), seize those legumes. There are a million things you could do with them, but since we’re celebrating the south, why not just pan-fry the dern things. In a little butter, salt and pepper about 5 minutes or so. In a skillet.

How to eat fresh chickpeas

 Eat these on the back steps like this. Bless your heart.



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  1. Dana W. says:

    Oh my! This all sounds so good. These southern peas may be one of the best things about the hotter, lower lands to the south Asheville. I mostly cook from dried now and miss shelling peas on the front porch. Luckily I have some leftover black-eyed peas in the refrigerator. They were cooked with a slice of hickory-smoked bacon a few days ago. I had the pot likker yesterday. Thanks for reminding me to eat peas for lunch today!

    1. Barbara says:

      Dana we still have your Benton’s bacon prize from winning the pie contest in our freezer! You need it, and quick. Thanks for reminding me about pot likker, I corrected that in my post. Let’s eat some zipper beans soon.

  2. Kathryn Duke says:

    both of my Eastern NC grands make cornmeal dumplings and put them on top of cooking collards, or neckbones…now one of husbands favs…although he did not grow up eating them, he now asks for them!!!

  3. KAREN says:

    next trip down to ATL by way of hwy 441/ 365/ I- 985 checkout JAEMOR FARMS (north of Gainesville), august the Ga Belle peaches are in season…and there is so much more!

    1. Barbara says:

      Oh I saw that stand, Karen, there was so much traffic I just drove by. Now I regret it! Next trip, I’ll be sure to stop. Thanks for the heads-up.

  4. Deni L. Payne says:

    Oh, my, yes! I grew up with these peas, given to “the preacher” (my Dad) from wonderful rural people in our Alabama and North Florida churches. They are absolutely heavenly, and I now plant most of my big garden in peas, just so that I can have a lunch every day of fresh peas and tomatoes. I have tried and tried to find the old brown field pea to plant. They used to be called crowder, but when you plant the ones called that nowdays, you don’t get the same thing. Margaret Holmes (the canned veggie company) still sells some canned ones that are good, but you can’t find the dried ones anymore–if you can, please let me know! I still have hoarded some for special occasions that I bought a few years back online. Anyway, I plant blackeye and purplehull pinkeye for really great fresh pea flavor–and they freeze so well, too. My mom used to freeze them when our congregations were especially generous, and they were great! I only cook them for about 5-7 minutes, though, or they just begin to taste like the dried or canned, which I like, too, but why go to all the trouble of growing, picking, and shelling for that taste when you can get the fresh taste? I put a bit of sugar and salt and maybe a pinch of thyme and a piece of bacon in. So good you just can’t believe it. People around here (mts. of Virginia) don’t even know what I am talking about, but they grow great here, and have no disease or pest problems, which is nice. Very seldom does a childhood taste memory live up to the real thing, but this one does. Just don’t overcook ’em!

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