In Georgia and Alabama, they’re usually called crowder peas; in Kentucky and Tennessee, cowpeas; in Maryland and Delaware, lady peas; and throughout the South, just black-eyed peas (whether they have the distinctive dark spot or not). No matter the size, shape, or color, they’re all what Southerners term field peas in general, and when they’re simmered together with fresh speckled butter beans, a little seasoning meat, and a hot red pepper (as I’ve observed more than once at the tables of Alabama friends), and served with chopped raw onions and cornbread, there’s simply no greater side dish in the entire repertory. Today, fresh crowder peas are becoming as difficult to find (even in the South) as fresh genuine butter beans. Of course, fresh or frozen black-eyed peas and baby limas can be substituted in this recipe with delicious results, but since crowders and “specs” do have special flavor, watch for them in restaurants and diners when traveling in the South. (Traditionally, the fresh peas are cooked with a few of the tender green pods, or “snaps.”)
Place the peas and beans in a large bowl of water and, stirring around with your fingers, pick them over and discard any blemished ones or foreign particles. Drain, place in a large saucepan, and add the streak-o’-lean, red pepper, salt and pepper, and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer till the peas and beans are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes. (Frozen peas and beans might need less cooking time.)
Drain the peas and beans, transfer to a serving bowl, and serve hot with onions sprinkled over the top or served on the side.
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