Full of flavor and easy to prepare, fresh purple hull peas are a staple in the South and a treasured find at summer farmers’ markets. This easy and versatile recipe works its magic in minutes and transforms these tasty morsels into a guaranteed crowd-pleasing side dish.
Purple Hull Peas are just one of the many types of Southern peas or cowpeas. Not to be mistaken for English Peas and easily identified by their light green coloring and dark purple eyes, these marvelous bites of heaven have a slightly different texture and creamier taste than their more popular relative Black-Eyed Peas.
What are Southern Peas?
Besides Purple Hull and Black-Eyed Peas, other popular varieties of Southern peas or cowpeas include Field Peas, Pink Lady Peas, Zipper Peas, and White Acres. While all are similar and loaded with protein and fiber, each variety has subtle differences in taste.
Originally used as food for livestock, this lowly legume has risen to become a much-heralded part of Southern cuisine and is now considered a delicacy in this part of the world.
Not only are they cooked and served as a side dish, but they are also frequently used to make Black-Eyed Pea Hummus, Southern Caviar, main-dishes such as Hoppin’-John, and salads like my Tomato Salad with White Acre Peas.
Even with the differences in taste and texture, they all benefit from being cooked with some type of pork, which gives them extra flavor and richness. You will also almost always find them served with a piece of cornbread or a hoecake.
Where to buy them?
Depending on where you live, fresh purple hull peas and their cohorts are most often found at farmers’ markets in the summer and early fall. Occasionally you might also find them in the produce department at your local grocery store, and sometimes you can find them frozen or dried.
In my opinion, fresh is best, but in a pinch, either frozen or dried work too. I do not recommend canned.
Fresh, they can be purchased both shelled and unshelled, and many of my friends buy them by the bushel and then shell and freeze them. They do need to be blanched before freezing.
How many quarts of peas in a bushel?
According to the University of Georgia Extension Office and Lewis Produce in Thomasville, GA, a bushel of unshelled peas averages around 25 pounds and produces about four quarts of shelled legumes or eight pints.
Here is what you need for this recipe:
Here’s how to make them:
Add olive oil to a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Once the pan is hot, add the onion and cook for about six minutes or until it is tender and translucent.
Add the peas, the ham hock, salt, pepper, and chicken stock. Add water if necessary to make sure the legumes are covered by at least an inch of liquid. Turn the heat up to medium-high until the liquid comes to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook uncovered for about 20 minutes.
Start tasting at about 15 minutes to check for seasoning and to see if they are tender. The smaller and fresher they are, the less time they will need to cook.
Once done, remove and discard the ham hock and serve immediately.
What to serve with them:
Because of their high protein content, peas are often served with other vegetables for a meatless dinner. Here are links to some of my favorite accompaniments: Baked Mac and Cheese, Southern Potato Salad, Creamed Corn, Squash Casserole, Tomato and Cucumber Salad, Corn Salad, Collard Greens and Fried Sweet Corn.
If you have leftovers, use them to make hummus, or add them to salads, soups, and stews. You can also store leftovers in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to four days.
All of my Southern pea recipes are interchangeable. In other words, you can use this recipe for Purple Hulls for White Acres and vice versa.
This recipe calls for a smoked ham hock. Suitable substitutes are salt pork, pork belly, bacon, smoked pork chops, and leftover ham.
If you are lucky enough to have it, you can substitute bacon grease for the olive oil.
If you are freezing fresh peas, they need to be blanched first. To blanch them, add them to boiling water for two minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove and immediately place them in a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain and store them in plastic freezer bags for up to six months.
To save time, I frequently use frozen chopped onions in recipes like this.
If you are using frozen peas, you can add them to the pan without first defrosting. If they are dried, they to be reconstituted by soaking them in room temperature water for several hours or overnight. They will also take a little longer to cook.
You might notice that a foam develops while your peas are cooking. You can either skim it off or leave it as it will dissipate before they are done.
You can make this recipe up to 48 hours ahead. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to reheat. It does reheat well with no loss in quality.
Some of my friends tease me by calling me a “pea-oligist,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to my love of fresh peas. If you like peas as I do, I hope you will check out all of my Southern Pea recipes here.
★ If you make this recipe, please consider rating it and leaving a comment. I’d love to know how you liked it!
Thank you so much for visiting Grits and Pinecones. I hope you’ll come back soon!
Purple Hull Peas Recipe
- 3 cups fresh purple hull peas shelled
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 1 smoked ham hock
- 1/2 cup minced sweet onion Vidalia if possible
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Add olive oil to a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Once the pan is hot, add the onion and cook for about six minutes or until it is tender and translucent.
- Add the peas, the ham hock, salt, pepper, and chicken stock. Add water if necessary to make sure the peas are covered by at least an inch of liquid. Turn the heat up to medium-high until the liquid comes to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook uncovered for about 20 minutes.
- Start tasting the peas at about 15 minutes to check for seasoning and to see if they are tender. The smaller and fresher they are, the less time they will need to cook.
- Once done, remove and discard the ham hock and serve immediately.