Fresh field peas, like the Black-Eyed and prehaps more interestingly, the Purple Hull Pink Eyed pea, debuted at the markets a couple of weeks ago. Black-Eyed and Pink-Eyed peas are a favorite holiday food or comfort dish for displaced southerners, served up with a generous chunk of bacon or fatback and rice during New Year's to bring a little luck to the table (a.k.a. Hoppin' John). That's the dried version, anyway. Cooked fresh, the Purple Hull Pink-Eyed pea is actually sweet, super tender, and requires minimal prep (read: no soaking) to create something special and primarily enjoyed south of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of the Mississippi.
“They're a delicacy in the south,” said Alex Weiser, of Weiser Family Farms, who will have the colorful pods available into the fall. “Definitely fun to shuck if you have a porch and a dog.”
As elusively pastoral as that sounds, they are pretty simple to shuck: a necessity since the pods encasing the peas aren't edible. But squeezing the length of the pod between two fingers, pulling toward you while squeezing, achieves a quick result. The peas pop out with ease, and if you have a decent stack, it can make for a nostalgic, slow food moment shared with friends, inside or out, though we'd like to think the dog really isn't optional.
As the name suggests, the peas are pink-eyed, not black, though they share a very similar lineage. Also they don't attain their usual creamy ivory color until dried. Fresh, they are a pretty spring green, which sadly disappears after a long cook time or when canned. Raw, they have a slight green bitterness like fresh peanuts. Cooking them with any fat (though pork fat does seem to bring out the best in most things bean and pea), mellows them into a creamy soft pea with a sweet, nutty finish.
If you intend to can them fresh instead of drying them, you'll need a pressure canner (follow these instructions here; 11 pounds of pressure or 10 pounds using a weighted gauge; 40 minutes for pint jars, 50 for quarts). They also freeze well, but blanch them for a few minutes in boiling water first to keep them from going starchy in storage.
Weiser Family Farms has the Purple Hull Pink Eye, as well as the larger, creamier Dragon bean pictured above. They'll also have fresh Cannellini beans starting next week.