Cornfield Peas and Coconut Rice

In Housekeeping in Old Virginia (1879), Marion Cabell Tyree quotes verbatim Mozis Addums’ “Resipee for Cukin Kon-Feel Pees”: “Gather your pees ’bout sun-down. The folrin day, ’bout leven o’clock, gowge out your pees with your thum nale, like gowgin out a man’s eye-ball at a kote house. ... It fattens you up, makes you sassy, goes throo and throo your very soul.” “Some says cornfield and some says black-eye peas,” Virginia explains, and like the hoppin’ John of Louisiana, these beans are a staple of soul food because they are cheap and nourishing.

Mozis Addums cooked his peas with fried saltback, raw tomatoes, and brown sugar. Virginia favors hog jowl and coconut juice. Coconuts were plentiful in the South because of the West Indies, which accounts for the region’s plentiful coconut cakes and pies. Here the whiteness of coconut milk shows off the black-eyed look of the peas, besides adding a creamy sweetness to the rice.

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups dried black-eyed peas
  • 1 hog jowl, ham hock, or split pig’s foot
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 1–2 small red hot peppers
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • cups long-grain rice
  • 1 cup coconut juice and milk (from 1 coconut)*

Method

Put the peas and hog jowl in a pot with the onion, garlic, and seasonings and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, remove scum, cover pot, lower heat, and simmer gently for 1 hour. Add rice and liquid to cover, return to the simmer, cover tightly, and cook until both rice and beans are tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove jowl and cut meat from the bone. Chop meat and put back with the peas and rice. Stir in the coconut liquid and warm it over low heat without letting it simmer.

Variation

To make a delicious cold salad, drain the peas and rice, mix with chopped red and green peppers, green onions, and celery tops, and dress with a little warm bacon dripping or oil and vinegar.

* With an ice pick punch 2 holes through 2 of the black spots in the shell known as “eyes.” Shake out the juice inside and save it. Bake shell at 350° for 20 minutes. Put it on a chopping board and cover it with a towel. Split the shell by hitting the shell through the towel with a hammer. Peel off the shell and inner brown skin and put pieces of white coconut flesh in a blender. Add 1 cup boiling water and liquefy. Press the coconut milk from the shredded coconut through a strainer and add the milk, plus the reserved juice, to the rice.