Lady Peas – the crème de la crème of Southern summertime peas. Now that’s not saying that Pink Eyes, Black Eyed, Cream 40s, Purple Hulls, Zipper, Crowder and Butter Peas are not up to snuff – not by any means. Lady Peas are just a Southern delicacy of sorts.
And, as any true Southerner can attest about their own lineage, we know our “people” and can enliven the past accordingly. The Lady Pea and her relatives are technically beans horticulturally speaking… but a good dose of familial lore and a fabulous “pot liqueur” can modify any Southern heritage. I firmly believe that my Grandparents’ stories about their childhood, home places and family became more and more glorious and even grandiose as they aged. It is only natural for Southerners to cover their “bean” roots and call themselves “peas” as they age. Such rebranding and family pride is as genetic to our makeup as our love for peas. May the circle be unbroken y’all. Amen. (And adding an “amen” is only natural too for Southerners.)
Just like a Southern Belle herself, Lady Peas have a few hallmark characteristics that set them apart from other “cowpeas” or more eloquently said “Southern Peas.” Lady Peas are not “crowded” in their shells like their “Crowder” cousins, rather resting ever so daintily in their hulls. Why is the group called “cowpeas” one may ask? Well, you try having to decide to feed your family or your livestock after Sherman ransacked your farm. Those “cowpeas” cooked up nicely and in turn, became a Southern staple foodstuff after the Civil War. Not that peas were not eaten in antebellum times, the Black Eyed and other “cowpeas” were more so thought of as fodder. I doubt though that Ol’ Bessie ate her Black Eyed peas with a hank of fatback and billowing pan of cornbread. For a refresher course on why we Southerners eat what we eat on New Years, Black Eyed peas notwithstanding, check out my New Year’s menu history! Ok, back to Lady Peas…
Lady Peas also yield a much more delicate, sweet flavor with a creamy texture and a clear broth upon cooking – not a darker, brooding broth as many of their cousins do. Oh so ladylike y’all! A direct quote from my beloved Mimi, “If all I had to do was rock babies and shell peas, I’d be in heaven.” I can’t help but think that’s what Mimi is up to now.
For my Lady Pea Salad in A Time to Cook, I wanted the very essence of the pea to be forthcoming and prominent. Thus, this salad is a blanched pea salad. Blanching peas is paramount to preserving and cooking, but I love the texture of blanched peas. A bit of crunch to soak up the dressing. This recipe is a simple and very elegant dish – perfect for a side to any summertime meal, a light snack or as a spread of sorts – a Southern caviar if you will. Besides, if you have some fine Southern ladies in your life, I’m sure they will love this recipe. Southern Ladies are a treasure and worth being served such a fine delicacy. The chiffonaded basil and minty garnish carry the flavors forward and I’m sure you’ll be having ladies upon ladies asking for seconds – ever so elegantly of course.
Recipe from A Time to Cook – Dishes from Southern Sideboard
Photography by Helen Norman
3 cups blanched peas of your choice, e.g., lady peas
1 cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-3 basil leaves, cut in chiffonade
mint for garnish
Combine all ingredients together in a bowl and serve warm after blanching or chilled. It’s quite tasty both ways. Chopped mint is a nice addition to the salad as well as a garnish.
Farmer’s Note: my Herbed Mayonnaise for my Tomato Aspic is also a delicious dressing for this salad