Surely peas and beans are the best part of Southern home cooking. Fresh peas and beans are the glory of warm-weather farmers’ markets all over the South….I’d wager that every person raised in the semi-rural south has childhood stories about shelling brown paper sacks full of peas or beans until their thumbnails turned green. But what a payoff hides inside those fibrous pods…lady cream peas, crowders, purplehulls, pinkeyes, speckled butter beans, baby green limas, field peas, snap beans, blackeyed peas. No matter the variety, they just need a little salt and heat, a judicious amount of fat (usually from some form of smoked pork seasoning meat) and nice, slow braise to be worthy of the best-laid tables (see recipe here).
All summer long, purple hull peas ripen in my garden, and I never tire of the snapping-fresh texture of just-picked peas. But now that the weather’s turned cool (or what passes for cool below the 30th parallel), my pea plants are in the compost pile, and I’m back to cooking frozen peas and beans. A big pot of speckled butter beans, cooked with onions, peppers, and chopped andouille, are a delight on a (cooler) fall day. The beans are as brown as the falling oak leaves piling up in my driveway; they need no more accompaniment than rice or cornbread to soak up the cooking liquid.