If you are not from the South, you are probably scratching your head about now and wondering what in the world I’m talking about. “Peas” have a special meaning in most southern kitchens and bring back fond memories of eating at Grandma’s house and, if you are really lucky, even sitting on her front porch or at the kitchen table and helping her shell peas. And, no, I’m not talking about the round green English peas that come frozen, or in a can, but delicious fresh field peas, white acre peas, crowder peas, purple hull peas, black-eyed peas and pink lady peas. The list goes on and on. All have slight flavor variations, crowders and black-eyed peas are a little earthier and the lady varieties of peas are a little more delicate and creamy. Also, crowders and black-eyed peas need to be cooked a few minutes longer. But all are delicious when served with a slice of cornbread or hoe cakes and a few slices of fresh summer tomatoes.
Since I’ve lived here I have always gotten fresh peas from Tomato Land, a Tallahassee landmark. I would buy a gallon of fresh-shelled peas, take them home, blanch them and freeze them in smaller packages so I would always have some on hand. Now that Tomato Land has closed, I was panicking wondering where in the world I would be able to find fresh-shelled peas. And, if you are wondering, yes I am too lazy to shell peas. It’s a character flaw, or just maybe it’s because I don’t have a front porch, or a grandchild to shell peas with.
Anyway, my good friend Courtney who owns As You Wish, a wonderful boutique filled with beautiful clothes came to my rescue. She actually has a farmer that stops by her store once every week or so with fresh produce and she bought me some fresh peas and silver queen corn. That was yesterday, and today I’m cooking up a true southern feast.
So, grab a glass of ice tea and let’s get the peas cooking! All you will need are fresh-shelled peas (any kind, except English peas), an onion, garlic, and salt pork, leftover ham or a ham hock and if you really want it to be an authentic southern dish, some bacon grease. Now, I know some of you are shaking your head, thinking that I have gone too far, but it’s how it’s done. If you just can’t bring yourself to use bacon grease, you can substitute olive oil and if the thought of adding salt pork or a ham hock is too much for you, you can substitute a package or two of dry ham flavored concentrate made by Goya.
Add bacon grease to a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the grease is hot, add the onions, reduce the heat to low and sauté for about 6-7 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute.
Add the peas, whatever pork product you are using (I had leftover ham from Easter frozen for just this purpose), and about 3 cups water and bring to a boil. You want the water to cover the peas by about an inch. Skim off any foam that develops.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes. It may take a little more or a little less time depending on what kind of peas you are cooking. Stir occasionally. Start tasting them to see if they are done about 20 minutes into the cooking process and keep tasting one or two peas every few minutes until they reach the desired texture. You don’t want to overcook them or they will be mushy.
Add salt and pepper to taste and serve. Enjoy!
Wine pairing: I’ve been trying to include some wine suggestions in my last few recipes, but this southern dish is best served with sweet ice tea.