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Field Peas, a Southern Good Luck Charm

New Year traditions are often a matter of “do such-and-such on January first, and you’ll have good luck all year.” In the American South, that means eating the new year meal, traditionally hog jowl, collard greens, and black-eyed peas (also called field peas or cow peas). My family eats ham or pork chops, black-eyed peas, and a spinach salad. We do it out of tradition more than superstition, but I know older people who get nervous if there aren’t the right foods in the house when the New Year holiday approaches. As you go further south, those field peas are served more often, and in some places are an everyday dish. Maybe you didn’t know that field peas come in different varieties, with different uses and flavors.

Because the seeds were usually passed down through families, they come in so many varieties that no one has an exact count. The have the best names — turkey craw, washday, red ripper, old timer, whippoorwill. Different kinds have different applications in the kitchen. Crowder peas, named for the way they crowd into the pod, are big and meaty and mix well with rice. Cream peas are bright and delicate and mash well.

The tiny Sea Island red pea, a rare variety that since the 17th century was cooked into a ruddy gravy in the rice fields of the Carolinas, is being revived by dedicated students of Southern culinary history, some of whom gathered on a Sunday afternoon last month at a historic antebellum house in Charleston, S.C., for what organizers said was the most elaborate Southern field-pea tasting ever assembled.

Read about the history of black-eyed peas and the effort to expand the selection at your local grocery store at the New York Times. -via Metafilter

(Image credit: jeffreyw)


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