Posted in Tastings, Field Pea Tasting
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Our Southern field pea tasting on Sunday was really fun. Thanks to all who showed up for the event and were such enthusiastic tasters! We tasted 10 varieties of field peas, which were cooked very simply and seasoned only with salt in order to allow the individual flavors of the peas to shine.
The varieties were:
1. White Acres (or Lady cream) - mid-Atlantic heirloom southern pea. small, cream seed type
2. Six Weeks sugar crowder - small to medium cream colored seed
3. Pink-eyed purple hull - an old favorite. Purple pods containing elongated cream colored peas with pink or purple eyes.
4. Purple hull crowder - large, crowded tan seed in purple hulls
5. Big Boy- large cream colored, brown eyed pea similar to black-eyed pea
6. Black-eyed - An old standard variety. Thomas Jefferson grew Blackeye Peas in the 1770’s and is said to have brought them to Virginia from France, who got them from North Africa.
7. Brown crowder - large standard brown crowder
8. Colossus crowder - Very large brown crowder. Easy to pick and shell with a nutty flavor.
9. Dixie Lee - Longtime Southern favorite for its brown color, strong flavor & dark gravy when cooked. medium sized.
10. Black crowder - Very long pods give huge yields of beautiful purple peas that turn black as they dry.
In addition to the peas, we also sampled the potlikker (or pot liquor) of each variety. Potlikkers of greens, peas, and beans are traditionally flavored with salt-cured or smoked pork. We opted to use fresh pork fatback from Fickle Creek Farm in order to get some pork seasoning without overpowering the nuances of flavor with smoke. Bites of warm cornbreads made from two destinctly different organic heirloom cornmeals from Anson Mills and Salamander Springs Farm served as delicious palate cleansers between pea varieties.
There emerged some clear favorties from our tastings:
1. Big Boy pea- a cream colored, large, brown-eyed pea similar to a black-eyed pea but tastier - some detected hints of spice - cardamom and nutmeg. I found this variety at the Greensboro Farmer’s Curb Market.
2. Lady cream or White Acre pea - a tiny, delicate, cream colored, buttery pea. I grew this variety as Lady Cream Peas, but found a seemingly identical pea called White Acres at the Raleigh Farmer’s Market.
3. Pink eyed purple hull pea - a cream to tan colored, pink or purple eyed with a grassy, yet rich taste. This is the most widely available variety. I have seen them at both the Carrboro and Raleigh Farmer’s Markets.
4. Colossus crowder - a very large brown crowder pea with a nutty reminiscent of boiled peanuts. I found this variety at the Greensboro Curb Market.
If you were unable to make the event, you should be able to find field peas at our area farmer’s markets until mid-October or the first frost.
At the event we talked about the dizzying array of condiments that customarily accompany field peas at the Southern table. I promised to share a few of my favorite relish and pickle recipes, some easy recipes to enjoy field peas, and my favorite cornbread recipe.
A Note on Canning:
For all the following recipes, you can simply store the relishes or pickles in sterilized jars with sterilized lids in the refrigerator for about a month. If you wish to store them longer than that, you need to process the jars in a hot water bath for 10-15 minutes to seal the jars. For detailed canning instructions, please check out the USDA canning guide.
“The time will come when winter will ask you what you were doing all summer.”
— Henry Clay
This recipe comes from my great-grandmother Jennie Sue Murphree, who I called “Country Mawmaw” because she lived on a bonified farm with a milk cow, chickens, and a huge garden. My grandmother (her daughter-in-law) learned to cook from her and made this chili sauce for me. I made it for the first time when I was ten or eleven years old. The previous year we had run out of what my grandmother had rationed us in the middle of winter, and I wanted to help increase the larder.
11 c. ripe (red) tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 c. onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 c. white sugar
2 c. apple cider vinegar
4 hot (green or red) peppers, finely chopped
2 green bell peppers, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. whole pickling spice (or a blend of allspice, bay leaves, cardamom, mace, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, mustard seeds and peppercorns) bundled in a piece of cheesecloth or a coffee filter and tied with a string
1 TBSP salt, more to taste
Start by cooking the tomatoes slowly by themselves to reduce some of their liquid. Add salt to taste- around a tablespoon. Then add the other ingredients. Cook until thick and bubbling. Remove the spice sachet. Put into sterilized jars. In Country Mawmaw’s words - “This is good to eat with peas or beans, like a relish.”
Here are a few other of my favorite relishes and pickles.
Indian tomato chutney
(adapted from Pickled by Lucy Norris)
I LOVE Indian tomato chutney and it goes wonderfully with peas. In fact I can’t really think of much it doesn’t compliment. There is a local company called Kerala Curries that makes a good Indian tomato chutney if you aren’t up to making your own. It is available at Weaver St. and other places around town. I recommend trying this recipe though. It will fill your house with a delicious aroma, and it is just plain fun. This is a very small batch. Feel free to double or triple it if you’ve got plenty of tomatoes.
1 pound ripe tomatoes, red ones with good acidity work best in my opinion
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 1/2 Tablespoon canola or grapeseed oil
3 dried red chile peppers
2 Tablespoons brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon chopped and seeded serrano chile pepper (or jalapeno)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/8 tsp ground tumeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
One 1/4 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
In a cast iron skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Wehn teh oil is hot, add the red chiles and cook until they start to brown, then add the mustard seeds and stir. When the seeds begin to pop, add the tomato and garlic mixture and chopped serrano chile to the skillet and cook for 1 minute more. Then add the cayenne, cumin, and tumeric and cook about 3 minutes, stirring so it doesn’t stick and until it is thick.
Reduce heat to low. With your fingers, squeeze in the ginger, and discard the fibrous pulp. Stir in the lemon juice, salt, sugar, and cilantro. Adjust seasonings to taste if desired. Let cool and store in an airtight container or in sterilized jars for longer storage.
This is a recipe that was made with whatever the cook had on hand in excess. If you have an excess of green tomatoes, zucchinni, or squash feel free to use them in place of the cabbage. Just be sure they are fresh and firm.
Makes 3 pints
1 large green cabbage (or substitute part or all with green tomatoes), shredded or finely chopped to yield 8 cups
2/3 cup finely chopped onion
2/3 chopped green peppers - mild or hot depending on how you like it
2 Tbsp. kosher salt
For the bring:
2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons powdered mustard
2 teaspoons celery seed
2 teaspoons white mustard seeds
2 whole allspice seeds
Put the cabbage, onion, and pepper in a colander, mix well, then sprinkle with salt. Place the colander over a large bowl and refrigerate overnight to drain off the excess moisture.
The next morning, combine the brine ingredients in a large, nonreactive pot over medium-high heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the vegetables and simmer for another 5-10 minutes, until the vegetables are just tender. Pour into sterilized jars and cap with sterilized lids.
My favorite ways to eat field peas:
I have always loved and will always love peas cooked slowly until tender with a piece of salt pork, served with cornbread, various relishes, and pickles and at least two other vegetables - snap beans, baby butterbeans, fried or boiled okra, creamed corn, turnip greens. Often there was no main meat dish served, just what was used for flavoring. My grandfather always shelled and put up quart ziploc bags of peas for the winter and in each bag he would add 4-5 small whole okra. The okra really adds body and succulence to the potlikker whether or not you like boiled okra. Most of my family did of course, and 5 pods never seemed to be enough. Here are the basic proportions for cooking a pot of peas.
Simple Field Peas
4 cups fresh shelled peas
2 1/2 cups water (you can substitute chicken stock or pork stock)
a small slice (about 1- 1/2 ounces) of salt pork or other cured, smoked or not, piece of fatty pork such as bacon
OR you can substitute 1 Tablespoon olive oil plus 1 teaspoon salt
OR a teaspoon of bacon grease
OR you can use a few small pieces of heavily-salted fresh pork belly or fatback that you rendered slowly in a pan until well-browned.
A few small whole okra pods
salt and pepper to taste
Carefully wash and pick over the peas. Discard any damaged or “buggy” peas. Put the peas in a pot and cover with water or stock. Bring to a boil over med-high heat. At this point the peas will throw off a lot of foam, which needs to be skimmed off. When the foaming stops, reduce the heat to a low simmer, add okra, and cook covered until the peas are quite tender, but not at all mushy, about 20-30 minutes. Taste carefully for seasoning. Serve hot with cornbread or rice or however you like. I recommend a slice of raw sweet onion.
Field pea salad with tomatoes and garlic mayo
This is currently my favorite way to eat peas in the summertime when I’m trying to avoid heating up the kitchen.
1 1/4 cup mixed field peas (and butterbeans, too, if you like)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 fresh summer tomatoes, cut into wedges - use several varieties if possible
3 Tablespoons Red Wine or sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh black pepper
1 teaspoon dijon or whole grain mustard
1 Tablespoon chopped shallot or red onion
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove very fresh garlic, chopped or pounded to a paste with a pinch of salt
1/2 cup homemade mayonnaise or you can substitute Duke’s in a pinch
Dash of Tabasco
1-2 TBSP hot water to thin if needed
Boil the peas in a large pot of salted water until tender (about 10 minutes). Drain immediately and spread the peas out on a sheet pan to cool. When the peas are completely cool (you can pop them in the refrigerator or freezer if you are in a hurry) toss them in a bowl with the tomatoes.
Make the dressing. Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add the shallot and taste for salt and pepper.
Make the garlic sauce by stirring together the garlic paste and the mayo. Add the hot sauce and a little hot water to thin to drizzling consistency.
Season the peas and tomatoes with salt and pepper. Pour enough dressing over the vegetables to coat them and toss gently. Drizzle the garlic mayo over the salad and pass more at the table. You can serve this as a side dish - it is delicious with grilled meats and fish- or with mixed greens or alone as a light meal all by itself.
To make Hoppin’ John, all you do is cook field peas (traditionally black eyed peas, but you can use whatever you have on hand), then use your potlikker (plus a little extra water if needed) to cook your rice. I like to use Carolina Gold rice or basmati. When making Hoppin’ John I use smoked pork for seasoning my peas for the best flavor. You can also add a bay leaf, celery or other seasonings to your pea cooking liquid if you wish. When both rice and peas are cooked and warmed separately, you toss them together. Or you can simply serve the peas on top of the rice. Serve with the embellishments of your choice - fresh chopped tomatoes, tomato chutney, hot sauce, scallions, chopped bacon, and grated cheddar are just a start. One cup of fresh peas to one cup of dried rice is enough for four servings.
To turn your Hoppin’ John into Limpin’ Susan:
Saute’ 1/2 cup onion in 1 Tablespoon olive oil, then add 1 minced garlic clove, 1 cup 1/2″ okra slices, and one cup chopped tomato and simmer until the okra is tender. Mix with cooked rice, and you have Linpin’ Susan. I have seen some versions that also contain peas, and I often make mine this way - sort of Hoppin’ John with okra. If I don’t include peas in my Limpin’ Susan, I generally serve them alongside.
Black Skillet Cornbread
At the pea tasting, we had two types of cornbread. One made with Anson Mills coarse white cornmeal and another made with Salamander Springs Farm Kentucky heirloom cornmeal. This is the recipe that I use for the Anson Mills cornmeal. When you order Anson Mills cornmeal, it comes with a very good recipe for cornbread made with sweet (regular whole) milk, but I prefer the tangy taste of cornbread made with buttermilk. This also works well for just about any commercially available cornmeal. If you order cornmeal from Salamander Springs Farm, use the recipe on the bag. Theirs is a very unique cornmeal and cooks differently than most.
1 1/2 cups cornmeal (I like Anson Mills coarse white, but Lindley Mills and Guilford Mills white or yellow, fine or coarse cornmeals are fine substitutes)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder (aluminum-free such as Rumsford)
1 3/4 cups Maple View buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tablespoons melted butter
1 Tablespoon of a high heat oil such as grapeseed oil
You really need a 10-inch cast iron skillet for this recipe. If you do not have one, it is the best $15 you will ever spend so stop what you’re doing and go get one. You can even by them preseasoned these days. If you insist you can use a 9 or 10-inch cake pan or muffin tins, but you won’t get the same crust, which in my opinion is what cornbread is all about.
Preheat oven 450 and place your skillet in the oven. You need to get your skillet hot as blazes so you’ll need a heavy duty oven mitt or a thick, dry towel to handle the skillet.
Mix the cornmeal, salt, baking powder and set aside. Stir together the buttermilk, beaten eggs, and melted butter.
Add your grapeseed or other high heat oil to your skillet and place the skillet back in the oven.
Stir the wet ingredients into your meal and beat with a wooden spoon until the batter is smooth. Remove the skillet from the oven and swirl the oil in the pan to coat the sides. Pour out any excess oil. Pour the batter into the hot skillet. It should sizzle on contact. Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until the cornbread is dark golden brown and crusty on top.
Remove the skillet from the oven and turn it onto a plate or your crust will loose its crispness. Serve piping hot.