On Wednesday, we rushed to harvest the beautiful zebra-striped black eyed peas before the rain recommenced. Planted as a cover crop by our summer interns, black eyed peas (also called cowpeas and southern peas) became a staple of the Southeast after being brought from Africa by slaves, according to Ira Wallace of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in her book Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. Despite their name, black eyed peas are actually beans. Not only do black eyed peas reinvigorate the soil with nutrients by fixing nitrogen from the air, but when allowed to dry on the vine they can be plucked and stored for a year or more! In the South, black eyed peas are often eaten on New Year’s Day for good luck.
So, what to do with them now? Some of us were a little worried about the preceding days’ rain and resulting humidity – Did the beans get too wet already? Is it simply too damp in the air to dry them now? The answer is, nope – beans are resilient and drying them is easy! Just shuck the beans from their pods, (compost the pods – feel free to bring them to the garden), and lay the beans out on a tray overnight. Once they’re dry to the touch they’ll be ready to store in an airtight container for months on end!
When you’re ready to eat your beans, plan ahead for best results. The day before you want to cook them, soak them in enough water to cover them for eight hours or overnight – right on the counter is fine. In her book Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon of the Weston A. Price Foundation recommends soaking legumes such as black eyed peas in water plus two tablespoons of pastured whey. Drawing upon the ancient knowledge and practices of traditional societies across the globe, Fallon explains that soaking legumes in water and the acid found in whey neutralizes phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors so the nutrients in beans become readily digestible and easily assimilated.
Now, for cooking! Bring equal parts beans and water to a boil in a pot. After it begins to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and let it go for 40 to 60 minutes, or until the beans are tender – just test it by picking out a few with a spoon and tasting (after letting them cool off for a moment!).
Want to jazz up your basic black eyed peas? Check out this recipe for Black Eyed Pea Cakes with Collard Greens and Sweet Potatoes by Nourished Kitchen, or this recipe for Black Eyed Peas and Kale Soup by Nutrition Stripped – and take advantage of the lovely dinosaur kale trees in the garden!
Love + The U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team