Lady Peas ~ Summer's Delicacy
You can call these a winner...
We southerners are peculiar about our peas. Some like the hearty, dark-meat types like the black-eyes, crowders, purple hulls and pink-eyes which makes the best darken broth; others cherish pale lady creams, zipper peas (also known as white crowders) and butter peas which yields light broths.
Lady Peas are my very favorite summer delicacy and they are only available for a short time during the summer and you can only get ‘em here in the South. Some folks refer to these as cream peas 'cause when cooked, that's exactly what you taste, pure creaminess. These old-fashion heritage peas are smaller, sweeter and a lot more tender than most peas.
Very good green but best when matured into the cream coloration. The small pods resemble kernels of fresh white corn cut from the cob and are just as tender and almost as sweet. Lady peas are best cooked with very little seasoning, nothing too heavy to mask over the delicate, buttery flavor. I hear tell some folks say white acre peas are the same and maybe so, I guess we a little slow down here, not up to changbut if you ever get your hands on some tiny, fresh picked lady peas, I think you'll be convinced otherwise.
By the way, congratulations to Jim Smith, executive chef to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, with his win last week in the Great American Seafood Cook-off in NOLA. Facing some of the heavyweights of the American culinary scene, he represented Alabama in the 8th annual Great American Seafood Cook-off, an event designed to focus attention on the diversity of American seafood. The dish he chose to prepare was called “Late Summer Alabama Bounty” and it featured shrimp and crab marinated with garam masala, scented yellow squash puree, bacon-peach relish and Spanish basil oil. The kicker that impressed the judges - a dish he cooks regularly for the first family, lady peas. And on his way to the Big Easy, Chef Smith also stopped here in Mobile at Southern Fish and Oyster Co. my go-to-place for seafood, where he picked up the U-8 shrimp that really impressed the judges... Congrats Chef Smith.
Finally, here's my simple way to cook most all types of peas, fresh or frozen.
Basic Stock for all Shelled Peas and Beans
A little smoke meat, like ham, hock or neck-bone
Quartered sweet or white onion
Small bay leaf
Freshly ground black peppercorns
Depending on the type of peas or beans determines how much smoked meat to use. In the pot shown, I made stock for two vegetables - the Lady Peas here and large butter-beans. The lighter the peas, the less smoke flavoring is needed, in my opinion. Start out with 5 to 6 cups of water for about 4 cups of peas. Bring all above ingredients with the water to a boil and let simmer covered on low for a good hour. From here it is a matter of preference, sometimes I strain the stock and sometimes I just leave it be. But the next step I think is the most important.
1 heaping tablespoon bacon grease or butter
1/4 cup diced sweet or white onion
4 cups peas
Salt as needed
In a separate saucepan, saute the onion in the bacon grease until clear, add the peas and coat them in the grease. Barely cover the peas with the stock and bring to a simmer. I find the darker the peas, the more stock needed and longer cooking times. Add salt to taste. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until just tender; it will not take long at all for Lady Peas. Turn off heat and let peas set in the pot-likker to soak up the flavor.
Note: About 1 1/2 cups of strained stock was added to the Lady Peas while the rest, including the neck-bone, remained for the butter-beans.