Super simple but big on flavor, Zipper peas are an irresistible Southern classic side dish. Like Purple Hull Peas and full of summery goodness, zipper peas, sometimes called cream peas, are just one type of Southern pea often referred to as cowpeas or field peas.
Southern peas, which are a type of legume and classified as beans, bear no resemblance to the more well known English pea and are not related. Considered a delicacy in the South, they grow well here and seem to love our sandy soil and hot, humid summers.
A relative of the more common black-eyed pea, Zipper peas got their name because they are the easiest to shell. They have a delicate earthy flavor and are a highly prized find at the farmers’ markets in the spring and summer!
Besides black-eyed and zipper peas, other Southern field pea varieties include crowder, purple hull, and the more delicate white acre or lady peas. While all are similar, each has its distinctive flavor and consistency.
However, because of the similarities, if your recipe calls for fresh peas, you can easily substitute a different variety of Southern pea for what’s called for.
According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, these tasty legumes are a good source of protein and iron, and one serving provides more than 20 percent of the daily recommended amount of fiber.
What to serve with them:
These make-ahead wonders only take minutes to cook and are just as good reheated the next day. In the summer, I like nothing better than to serve them with fresh sliced tomatoes, homemade creamed corn, and a piece of cornbread, or hoecakes.
How to store them:
This recipe calls for fresh shelled peas. Once purchased, they need to be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They will be fine for five to seven days. After that, you will either need to cook them or freeze them.
If you are cooking them in a week or so, you can get by without blanching them. If you wish to store them longer, they need to be blanched before freezing.
How to blanch and freeze them:
Add the shelled peas to a large pot of boiling water and cook for two minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove them and immediately place them in a large bowl full of ice and water. When they are cool, drain in a colander and package in airtight containers or plastic freezer bags. They can then be frozen for up to six months.
Here’s what you will need for this recipe:
Here’s how to make it:
Add the salt pork to a medium-size saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook the pork for about five minutes or until it is just starting to brown. Stir frequently.
Add the onions and continue cooking and stirring for another six minutes. Then, add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.
Add the peas, kosher salt, black pepper, and three cups of chicken stock. Turn the heat up to medium-high and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and let them simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.
Stir occasionally and, if foam appears, use a slotted spoon to skim it off and discard.
After 20 minutes, taste for doneness and for seasonings. The fresher and smaller your peas are, the less time it will take for them to cook. They should be tender, but not mushy. If there is still any crunch to them, cook a few minutes longer. Add more salt or pepper if you think they need it.
I used salt pork in this recipe, which is found close to the ham in grocery stores. You can also use leftover ham, smoked ham hocks, bacon, or a smoked pork chop. If you don’t want to use pork, you can substitute a package of dry, ham flavored concentrate by Goya. You can find it in the Mexican food section of your grocery store.
Because I had it on hand, I used homemade chicken stock in this dish, but you can use whatever chicken or vegetable stock you have or even water. Beef stock is too strong to use in this recipe.
Fresh herbs like thyme or parsley can be added for an additional pop of flavor.
Fresh peas are always best, but depending on where you live, you might not be able to find them. If not, you might be able to find frozen ones. If so, you can use this same recipe as written. I don’t recommend canned peas for anything but maybe a hummus recipe.
If you have blanched your peas and they are frozen, you don’t have to defrost them. Just add them to the pan frozen. It may take a few minutes more to start boiling, but it will be fine.
If you are lucky enough to find fresh Southern peas, you might want to consider buying a bushel and freezing them. You will thank me next winter when you are craving some.
Check out these delicious side dishes featuring Southern peas: Healthy Black-Eyed Pea Salad, Southern White Acre Pea Succotash, Tomato Salad with White Acre Peas, Southern Hoppin John, and Black-Eyed Pea Hummus.
★ If you make this dish, please leave a comment and give this recipe a star rating. I would love to know how you liked it!
Thank you so much for visiting Grits and Pinecones!
Zipper Peas Recipe
- 3 cups fresh shelled Zipper peas
- 3 cups chicken stock can substitute water
- 2.5 ounces salt pork about 3 slices, chopped
- ½ cup onion finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Add the salt pork to a medium-size saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook the pork for about five minutes or until it is just starting to brown. Stir frequently.
- Add the onions and continue cooking and stirring for another six minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.
- Add the peas, kosher salt, black pepper, and three cups of chicken stock. Turn the heat up to medium-high and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and let them simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.
- Stir occasionally and, if foam appears, use a slotted spoon to skim it off and discard.
- After 20 minutes, taste for doneness and for seasonings. The fresher and smaller they are, the less time it will take for them to cook. They should be tender, but not mushy. If there is still any crunch to them, cook a few minutes longer. Add more salt or pepper if you think they need it.
- Serve immediately.