Friday, August 28, 2009

Crowder Peas - A Little Known Treat

On my last sojourn to the farmer's market, I was browsing through the stalls, determining what looked most interesting.  As I walked by Crump's stand, I noticed what looked like long,  bumpy green beans...except that many of them were purple.  As they were a vegetable that I had never encountered before, this meant that I had to buy them, of course.  The sign informed me that they were crowder peas, but little else.

So naturally, I googled them as soon as I returned home.  Crowder peas, named for the way they crowd the hull, are very closely related to black-eyed peas.  Both are varieties of cowpeas, which are a type of bean that is grown around the world, particularly in warmer climates and poorer soils.  As they have the highest protein content of any beans, they are still an important dietary staple in many parts of the world, particularly Africa.  They traveled to the US along with slaves, as so many southern delicacies did.  Crowder peas are still much beloved today in the south, where some people even make jelly from the hulls.

Since I had never worked with them before, I went for a traditional southern preparation as well.  

4 slices of bacon, chopped
1 small onion, small dice
1 small green bell pepper, small dice
1 clove garlic, smashed
8 oz hulled crowder peas
1 cup water
1 bay leaf
Tabasco sauce

Render the bacon.  Add the onion, pepper, and garlic and saute until they soften.  Add the peas, water, bay leaf, and salt the water so that it is mildly salty to taste.  Bring up to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes, until the peas are tender.  Add Tabasco, salt, and pepper to taste.

These peas had absolutely great flavor, and were far richer than I had expected.  I served them with a loaf of skillet cornbread.  I doubt that they will be in the market for much longer, but if you see them, by all means, pick some up.  Just be prepared to do the work of hulling them, which can be a little time consuming.

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