Sea Island Red Peas are from the Carolinas and are an heirloom variety of simple cow peas or black-eyed peas, a Low Country and Southern staple. I chose to feature the heirloom to call attention to the fantastic assortment of vegetables and fruits that may otherwise go extinct due to corporate farming. Increasingly, family farms growing these kinds of fruits and vegetables for their rich flavors, are displaced by huge conglomerate corporations that choose only one or two varieties to support their bottom line. The emphasis is on profit, not taste or nutrition, which could mean losing an incredible diversity of flavors.
Keeping alive heirloom varieties of fruits, vegetables and even sustainable meat production, has gained tremendous resurgence in the last two decades and I hope it is a trend that will continue. By purchasing and cooking these superior tasting and nutritional heirloom varieties, we help keep this industry alive.
Heirloom Sea Island Red Peas
Preparing heirloom vegetables helps keep a variety of produce continually available for purchase. Sea Island Red Peas are a delicious side dish or main course. Garnish with chives or clear Tabasco hot sauce. Try together with ham steak, fried chicken or your favorite meatloaf.
- 1 cup Sea Island Red Peas
- 1 quart chicken stock or ham stock (use vegetable stock for a vegetarian option)
- 3 slices bacon
- 1/2 whole onion, skinned and cut through the root to leave intact
- 1/2 whole carrot, peeled
- 1 or 2 stalk celery
- 2 clove garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Soak the red peas in twice as much water as needed to cover them, since they will absorb most of the water. Place uncovered in a refrigerator overnight.
In a heavy bottom pot, render the bacon over medium heat. Cook the bacon until it is crispy and all the fat has been rendered. Remove the bacon from the pot, chop and reserve.
While the bacon is cooking take an onion and half it through the root end, leaving the root end intact. Peel half of a large carrot and gather the celery and the rest of the ingredients together.
Add the peas, onion, carrot, celery, garlic and seasonings to the pot with the bacon drippings. Next add the 1 quart of chicken, or ham stock.* Bring to a boil on high heat. Cover with a lid and reduce the heat to simmer.
*For a vegetarian option, omit the bacon drippings and add vegetable stock.
Cook the peas for 75 to 90 minutes or until the peas are soft and cooked. Remove the onion, celery, carrot and bay leaf.**
**You can puree the cooked vegetables along with the 1/3 cup of peas (in the next step), if desired.
Measure out 1/3 cup of the peas and add to a food processor. Puree to make a paste. The idea here is to use the starch from the peas to help thicken the dish slightly.
Add the puree back into the pot with the peas along with the bacon. Taste for final seasoning.
Cornbread is a natural side accompaniment to red peas. In my house I also sometimes garnish with fresh minced onion and a couple of drops of clear hot pepper sauce like Trappey's brand.