Some of y’all may remember me
whining complaining during the summer about the delay in getting our purple hull peas planted. Because of the seemingly incessant rain and all the delays to our early crops and gardens, I didn’t get them planted until over a month after our intended and regular planting date.
Knowing how they thrive in heat, I had no idea if they’d mature in late September. But I figured I had nothing to lose and I gave it a shot.
And now it’s early October and we have an abundance of purple hull peas.
I’m really glad that worked out. We love them and they’re an important part of what we do. I’m happy to have purple-stained fingers these days.
Purple hull peas and all their cousins (blackeyed peas, cowpeas, crowder peas, Southern peas, etc.) are actually beans, not peas. Like so much great Southern food, they originated in Africa and were probably brought to this continent as a food source for slaves. They thrive in hot dry weather. We usually plant ours in mid-June, after the English peas are done. This year I planted them in late July, certainly not a time you’d expect to be putting in a crop.
Unless you’ve had purple hull or blackeyed peas fresh from the garden, you haven’t tasted the real thing. They’re incomparably superior to the canned version sold in grocery stores.
Even though I love them now, I didn’t like them when I was a kid. It is traditional in the South to eat blackeyed peas on New Years Day (along with greens and hog jowls or ham hocks). The peas are supposed to bring good luck. When I was a boy my mother would force me to eat at least one blackeyed pea on New Years Day, lest I end up unlucky all year.
I’ve never definitively determined the origin of that tradition. According to some sources, Southerners associate blackeyed peas with good fortune because it was a food that kept them alive during the Civil War. Supposedly Union soldiers didn’t recognize them as food, so they didn’t destroy them when they came through.
If that is true then there is an interesting parallel then between our Southern peas and another Southern staple–peanuts.
Peanuts also came to the South from Africa (having been introduced into Africa from South America by the Spanish) to be food for slaves and farm animals. In the 1920s and 1930s the boll weevil repeated General Sherman’s feat, marching across the South and destroying cotton crops. This led Southern farmers to look for a replacement crop and many began planting large peanut crops, which in turn led to a glut in peanuts. The peanut glut resulted in a search for creative alternate uses for the crop and that research yielded peanut butter, now an ubiquitous feature of the American diet.
We vacationed in Spain 15 years ago or so and our kids complained about the food there a lot. They wanted peanut butter and there was none to be found anywhere. The next year we went back and Cherie packed a jar in her suitcase. About halfway through our vacation she brought it out, making them deliriously happy.
Things may be changing though. A friend of ours went to Europe last month. She posted a photo on facebook of something she bought in a grocery store in Germany. The label on the jar read: “Original Amerikanische Erdnusscreme.” It was a jar of peanut butter.
But I’d be willing to bet that you still can’t find purple hull peas there.