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Growing Southern delicacy in North

Crowder peas make delicious addition to Valley gardens

Stephanie Hughes took photos of the emerging crowder peas — a Southern delicacy — that she's attempting to grow in her garden. (Submitted photo)

Growing up in the Southern summers, there was one thing that was just totally amazing, and that was my aunt’s cooking.

Oh my, twice a day (breakfast was good, but…) this woman would make a spread that would put any television chef to shame. The dish I loved and remember the most was crowder peas (Vigna uniquiculata).

The family would pick them from the garden, sit on the porch and shell them, and then with cooking magic they were served as a delight to the palate. With pods of okra floating on top, and the exquisite juice (broth that is called “pot liquor”) that is to be soaked into real cornbread.

Well, Bill and I moved into our downsized home last year, and I yearned for that taste again. So, I spent months hunting for crowder peas for cooking. They were so expensive that I decided to try growing them.

I knew they liked heat, and the Mississippi soil is sand, so they must like dry conditions. We got our soil test done, and Bill made raised beds. We found a man who sold us the best soil (with sand in it). We were ready to go.

I ordered seeds, and the weather turned HOT. Oh, yeah!

Bill planted our seeds on Monday and by Friday, little seeds were sprouting. We had babies.

Let me tell you about crowder peas. They are in a category called Southern peas or field peas or cow peas. They are not a pea at all, but a bean that fixes atmospheric nitrogen into the soil. There are three kinds for Southern peas:

1. Crowder, which has a robust, hardy flavor. They are brown, purple to green. They are called crowder because they have the habit of crowding each pea into the hull, thus they are globular shaped, almost square;

2. Cream, which has a mild flavor and are white and creamy;

3. Black-eyed, which has an in-between flavor.

These legumes are rich in protein (23 percent), and in colonial times they were brought over as feed for cattle and people as well.

The peas originated in Africa and India. They can be eaten fresh off the vines, shelled and processed (frozen or canned), or dried in the hulls and shucked later. Indeed, these peas are so nutrient rich, the world dries about 1.24 million tons annually (42,000 tons of that is in the United States). The plants grow pods from 3 to 6 inches long, purple, brown and green, with six to 13 seeds compressed into each pod.

I remember the aunts picking the pods, shelling them on the porch, then cooking them in water with okra and a ham hock. By dinner or supper, you could smell the feast. With my little pea patch, I hope to revisit those meals with Bill. I will let you know my success later this growing season.

For more on growing these peas in your garden, go to http://go.osu.edu/crowderpeas.

Hughes is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener volunteer.

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