Cowpeas (Southern Peas)

jimsterAugust 12, 2008

I don't know whether to ask this on this forum or the Bean Forum. But here goes.

I started growing cowpeas, aka Southern peas, a few years ago out of curiosity about Southern food. It's hard to find information about cowpeas because here, in the North, they are practically unknown whereas, in the South they're such a basic part of the cuisine that they don't get written about or discussed very much.

As for me, I started from scratch, having grown up without the family traditions that all Southerners seem to have about which cowpeas are best and the best way to prepare them. I have grown them, cooked them and eaten them for three or four years now, but that's just scratching the surface. I have limited space and, since I want my saved seed to stay pure, I am able to try only one or two varieties each year. I could benefit from your experience.

Here are some which I am considering for next year and beyond:

Knuckle Purple Hull


Calico Crowder

Pinkeye Purple Hull

Red Ripper

Speckled Purple Hull

Purple Hull Crowder

Which of these do you consider best? Are there others you like better than any of these?

Any special cooking or serving tips will be appreciated.


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psst.....what are cow peas? A dried bean?

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 11:42PM
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Well, I grew up in se texas, which is not like texas and not like louisiana and not like the deep south... It's a little of each. We did not have the term "cow peas". But I grew up eating field peas, crowder peas, etc. Crowders are my favorite. Although I have not had access to them in many years (I live in central tx now). I've had field and purple hull peas, which to me have a greener taste than crowders or black eyes. To me, crowders are a cross, in taste, between the two.

I'll list a website below which might offer a little info about many things, lol. I like all the "cow peas" cooked with a little bacon, a lot of onion, and some hot peppers. I also like them cooked middle eastern style with lots of those type spices... cumin, coriander seed, cilantro, chile powder, harissa, etc. That'll give it a whole different flavor.

Here is the only blurb about peas:


"We're not talking English Peas or Snow Peas here; We're talking Cowpeas or Southern Peas. These can be Blackeyed, Purple Hull, Crowder, Cream, Hereford or Field Peas (I know that these are actually beans). Now these are all delicious, but they can't be substituted in specialty dishes like New Years Day for good luck, Hoppin John or Texas Caviar; those all feature the Blackeyed Pea.
Except for those last two dishes, they are all cooked pretty much the same. Put the dried peas in a pot and cover with water, add a ham bone, ham hocks, salt pork, ham or just bacon grease if that is the best you have, You could also add some onion and garlic and/or chiles if you like. Cook until done! This isn't "healthy done"; this is "done done". Salt and pepper to taste.
Cornbread, green onions and sliced tomatoes are a requisite to accompany these."

I tend to agree... and they are very good over rice with a little sausage or ham added to it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Tex, Mex, Cajun, the real deal from my area

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 12:45AM
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Jim - I'm from the Deep south - NW Florida to be exact - but we sometimes call it "LA" (Lower Alabama). For the true taste of what you are calling southern peas, I'd go for the pink-eye purple hulls. And, of course, you'll need some of what my Mom calls "whiteside" for seasoning. Basically a chunk of fatback or even fatty bacon, placed in a saucepan. Add a little water and boil over high heat until some of the fat is rendered out - just a couple of minutes will do. Add the peas and just barely cover with water. Salt and pepper are the only other seasonings you will need. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Cook until the peas are very tender.

Make a pan of cornbread to go with. Good eatin'!

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 6:52AM
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I really liked Crowder peas until I tried the Pink-eye Purple Hull and fell in love with them. They are next to my favorite vegetable. Favorite being the Irish potato. We have peas almost on a weekly basis throught the year.

While being truly southern and loving to cook with bacon drippings or ham hocks in some of my veggies, I don't like it in my peas. I cover the fresh or frozen peas with about two inches of water. They expand, plus I love the water they are cooked in as well as the peas. Add butter and plenty of salt. Cook until well done, not "healthy done." Before I married DH I would also add a little lemon juice while cooking. This isn't a southern thing, just unique to me. He likes them without the lemon juice, over crumbled corn bread.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 9:03AM
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My very southern great aunt's favorite is lady peas. They may have another name. I think she cooks them like Pat-t described. Wonderful!

Our farmer's market sells fresh peas already shelled. That machine makes a horrible racket, but worth the noise for the convenience of fresh peas already shelled.

Here's a cute article about peas with a link to recipes and an article called, "Your guide to identifying and cooking field peas."

Here is a link that might be useful: Field peas and butter beans

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 9:20AM
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"psst.....what are cow peas? A dried bean?"

I'll get in trouble if I try to really answer that. Before this thread is over, you will probably know, but you will not be able to explain it. I will say that botanically they are beans, but never, ever called beans. In the South if you just say "peas", this is what you are understood to mean. The other kind are "English peas". When discussing peas, the phrase "Good eatin'!" often comes up. English peas do not evoke that expression.

Yes, they can be dried, but it is common to harvest them at the fresh shelly stage, when the seeds are fully grown but still a bit immature. Peas at this stage are often frozen for winter use. Sometimes snaps (immature pods) are added to the shellies.

That's the best I can do, Linda.


Here is a link that might be useful: Crowder Peas

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 9:36AM
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This spring I happened to go to the produce stand on one of the three days the owner was selling fresh peas she'd grown. I bought a handful, having never tasted them, and I was outright amazed at the taste. Those were English peas and I decided I was going to plant some peas this fall, and again in the spring. My plants are between 3 and 6 inches tall at this point and I don't know if I'll get any harvest, but today I found some crowders and some regular black-eye peas and bought them.

I recommend tasting them plain before you decide what to do with them, because they have a lovely, delicate flavor, enough so that my husband ate a whole bowl of plain old beans :) I was surprised at the difference in taste. It's not drastic, but I wasn't expecting much difference at all. We all agreed that the crowders are more flavorful.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2008 at 7:50PM
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I'm from Michigan, born here and been here my whole life, so I'm no expert. Elery, though, was born in Kentucky, moved to Tennessee, then to Monroe Michigan when he was a teenager.

he says he likes crowder peas and the purple hull peas best, also likes butter beans and limas but the baby limas are better than the big ones. I haven't quite figured out the difference yet between peas and beans in the "southern sense". I just got a lot of raised eyebrows when I said that white half runners just tasted to me a lot like pinto beans with some green bean pods mixed in. The pink half runners have a difference flavor, but those white ones just don't stand out to me.

Of course, the first time I saw a pink half runner bean (in a grocery store in Tennessee), I picked it up and asked Elery what it was and how it was cooked. When he told me I laughed and said at home we'd feed a bean that size to the cattle, it was past its prime. His sister was not amused.....


    Bookmark   September 7, 2008 at 8:10PM
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Jim, you are right. When we say peas everyone knows what we are talking about and it isn't English peas. LOL

We always have a pea "patch." A friend and I canned 96 quarts about three weeks ago. We pick them when they are green and mature. My DH likes lots of snaps in his peas, it doesn't matter to me I just love peas. We plant either black eye or pink eye purple hull.

When I was a little girl my Mom would pick peas and then go get my Grandmother to help her shell and can them. My Grandmother could shell a bushel of peas in a very short time. I never learned the art of shelling peas. About 30 years ago I bought an industrial home size pea sheller and I can shell a bushel of peas in about 30 minutes with it. If I had to shell by hand we wouldn't be eating many peas.

I prefer peas canned instead of frozen and when I cook them fresh I sear them in a little bacon grease, add water and then salt and pepper when they are tender. I can squash/zucchini relish to serve with peas. Now thats "Good Eatin."

    Bookmark   September 8, 2008 at 11:10AM
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As long as we're on the subject of southern peas, here's a little trivia that I've been bursting to share.

The name Hoppin' John may be derived from the French Creole words for black eye peas, pois pigeon. That's not the same as the pigeon pea you would find in India, but the Creoles used the same term. Pois pigeon would be pronounced 'pwah pee-jhon' which could have easily been corrupted into 'hoppin' john'.

There. I feel better.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2008 at 11:15AM
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Jimster, I mentioned this on another forum I believe you were a participant of. But, if you've never tried Black Crowders I would recommend trying a row of them. I planted some for the first time this year and really liked them. I loved them green and shelled but I let some dry and will try them later in the winter. They are really pretty dried, they are black as pitch. I plan on two or three rows of them next year plus some other crowder varieties as well. May find one I like better than Mississippi Silver Hull and the Black Crowders.
I've eaten field peas all my life but never paid much attention to varieties. One was purple hull or pink eye and the other a 'white' pea. One made a dark soup and one light colored soup. My favorite was and is the ones that make a dark soup.
Glad to know someone up your way is growing field peas. I was stationed at Ft. Devens '65 and part of '66, never saw a field pea!!

    Bookmark   September 14, 2008 at 10:43PM
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bamagrit, I will remember your comments as I make my decisions about which varieties to grow. Those kinds of personal recommendations are exactly what I'm looking for.

It's odd to me that field peas still aren't grown and eaten in the North. They grow terrifically well here and are a great food in every way. It's only explained by regional customs. Why hasn't this been changed by the foodies?


    Bookmark   September 14, 2008 at 11:20PM
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It's odd to me that field peas still aren't grown and eaten in the North. They grow terrifically well here and are a great food in every way. It's only explained by regional customs. Why hasn't this been changed by the foodies?

Shhhhhhh!! They're our secret down South!

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 6:02PM
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I have eaten all of the ones you have posted about. My mother loved the crowder peas the best. I like them cooked with snaps and a ham hock. Cook until very tender and serve with plenty of oven baked corn bread. Now that is GOOD EATIN'

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 7:05PM
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Daylily, do you mean like this? It's a supper Elery made for me a couple of weeks ago.....


    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 10:39PM
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Have a pot of Mississippi Silver (from our garden here in SC, then frozen) simmering on the stove right now. Plenty of onion, bell pepper, garlic, and olive oil instead of fat meat. They will cook until well done and I will mash a few to thicken, then serve with rice and hot sauce (usually Texas Pete). So very healthy and delicious beyond words.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2008 at 1:38PM
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