Thursday, January 22, 2009

The best Black-eyed Peas ever.

Years ago, we used to end the old year and start the new one with our friends Julia, Robert and Zeke. It was always a pleasant, mellow time; a good way to ring out the old and bring in the new. A little more southern than the rest of us, on New Year's Day Julia would make black-eyed peas for luck. It wasn't something I had grown up doing, but we adopted the tradition wholeheartedly.

Time passed and we all moved further north, us to Pennsylvania, them to Minnesota. Here in Dutchy Pennsylvania, pork and sauerkraut is the thing to eat on New Years. We usually skip that, but I still make a pot of black-eyed peas. I suspect even if Julia has adopted whatever tradition they have in the cold Northland, she still simmers a pot of peas as well. I hope they are as good as the pot I made this year.

My sister Amanda called me from the grocery store not too long ago, because she wanted to add some black-eyed peas to something she was cooking. She wanted to be sure they were bean-like and in NO WAY like garden peas, a vegetable she loathes. I was really surprised she hadn't had black-eyed peas before because she is an adventurous vegetarian and eclectic cook. For anyone else who is not too sure about black-eyed peas, here is the scoop:

Black-eyed peas are a legume, like kidney or black beans. A member of the group of plants called Cow peas, or Crowder peas, they probably travelled here from Africa. There are a number of different varieties of crowder peas. We have grown Black-eyed and another variety called Missouri Green-eyed peas. We get them from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. If you would like to know more about the biology of cowpeas, try this Wikipedia article.

We have had great success growing these in our garden here in S. Central PA despite their need for a long-ish season. I love the way they look growing. The vines are vigorous, the flower is not showy, but looks rather like a sweet pea blossom. The seed-pods, however, are really quirky. Four pods grow out of a central spot. They look like a child's toy you could throw up into the air and watch twirl down. I lost my picture of black-eyed peas growing in my garden when the computer crashed last fall, but I found a lovely picture here posted by BVAR22. You may have to scroll down a bit.

Why is this here? Because I love bells and whistles, and I love to watch the steam rise!
You can eat Black-eyed peas at the green stage, at a semi-dry stage, or completely dry. We have always let them dry completely. For my pot of peas this year, I soaked 2 cups dry Black-eyed peas overnight. New Year's morning I cut 2 pieces of thick bacon into 2 inch pieces and lightly fried them in my stock pot. I rinsed the peas, and put them in my stock pot with
1 quart Imagine vegetable broth
1 chopped onion
3 crushed garlic cloves.

I brought it to a boil, then turned the heat down to simmer and let them cook all day long. I don't know if they were so excellent because they were fresher than store-bought peas, because I had grown them myself, or because the Imagine broth was so marvelous, but they were terrific. I mean, REALLY good. This isn't just my opinion- Jerehmiah, operating under the excellent rule that you shouldn't make your mother unhappy on New Year's took a small bowl to be polite. He actually asked for a second bowl- and he is not a bean eater.

Baker Creek has 25 varieties of cowpeas. This year I think I will order some black ones, and perhaps an early variety called Six Week Purple Hull.

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