Thursday, August 30, 2007

Purple Hull Peas and Ham

“What’s all this? Politics, parenting, humor? I thought I was going to get recipes here, Woman.”

Yeah, yeah. It’s a kitchen. Kitchens are places for food, yes, but have you ever noticed that at every gathering, people always end up in the kitchen? It’s a place where life happens, this kitchen, the place where we are all instinctively drawn to share that life together. Like family. So, pull up a chair, kick off your shoes and have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine depending on when you arrived here. You can even help cook if you want. You are family now, afterall.

Because we do food around here. Lots of food. Lately, you can sit at the table and help shell some peas while we chat. I have just discovered the joy of fresh-shelled peas and beans. I sat up alone one night (where were you?) and shelled a pound of purple hull peas. I thought, this must have been a great excuse to just sit and talk, this pea shelling thing. It doesn’t get in the way of talking, and you are forced to just “set a few” and be together. Why don’t we have those kinds of activities anymore? Oh yeah, TV. Damn that infernal box. I think we will just leave it off and shell peas.

I picked up the purple hull peas on impulse. I had no idea what they were. I just wanted to know if fresh shell peas (beans) tasted substantially better than dried ones. Turns out, the purple hulls are in the same family as southern peas like black-eyed peas and crowder peas. They are thought to have originated in Africa and to have arrived here with the slave trade. Purple hulls are said to be the tastiest of the “southern peas” as well. I was surprised to find out there is an entire Purple Hull Pea Festival held in June, and as the web site describes it (

“For most of us who were raised in this area, growing purple hull peas is sort of second nature. We've been doing it since we were youngun's, and it's sort of like learning to spotlight deer - you never really forget.”

Definitely southern. So, I reached deep in my own rural roots and ruminated a bit on what to do with my freshly-shelled peas and could only figure on one dish. It needed to be basic soul food, a real comfort dish. Something involving parts of animals not normally used by most of us post-megamart with its gleaming pre-packaged, watered and additive-added ham steaks. Something more like “hog jowl” or “ham hock.” Yeah.

Purple Hull Peas and Ham
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

This turned out so well that people at work were following me down the hall to find out what my lunch was. The Kiddo took a couple dainty bites, then dived in like I’d starved her for a week. Comfort food works that way. There were no leftovers to photograph.


Katherine Gray said...

I had the exact same thoughts about TV and food the other night. I so badly want to invite girlfriends over in the evening to make jam when I know they're watching reality TV.

And funny about shelling peas...I was reading Barbara Kingsolver's book last night--in the TV room no less--and she had a scene about meeting up with friends, sitting under a tree and shelling peas while they caught up. Wouldn't that be lovely? When my friends come I always worry about having wine and cheese ready and would be loathe to "put them to work." Perhaps I should rethink this?

The Expatriate Chef said...

We once got 80 tomatoes and put friends to work making sauce with us. Same friends have also been put to work helping make fresh ravioli and pasta. These meal events have become a real tradition for us. The right group of friends would love it, I bet!

I'm thinking I could drink wine while I am shelling peas. Wanna come over? :)

Rachel said...

making jam? Shelling peas? Ladies, I want in. But only if you'll come down and help me put up fruit in February/March in Melbourne. ;-) I'm thinking of some recipes I saw for putting soft fruits in liquor for desserts. Peaches in cognac for example. Who wants in - we'll do it Julia Child style, where we drink almost as much as we cook with!!

I've gotten Jess started on her first gardening project -a box planter of pea plants. I've also started the heirloom tomatoes and strawberries in seedling pots. Can't wait to get the kitchen garden going!

Stefani said...

Oh goodness! I'm so glad to have found this recipe!
We just shelled and shelled peas, and I was wondering what on earth to do with them all :-)

Thank you!