In the summertime, I can hardly remember my mother cooking anything besides vegetables. I remember going to the Farmer's Market sheds downtown and coming home toting bags of goodies. Summer wasn't summer without purple thumbs. Or the pop of snapped green beans falling softly into the pot. Or the pfft of corn juice bursting from the cob and across your face. Sadly, I was practically an adult before I fell in love with tomatoes. I remember the plates of tomatoes I passed around the dinner table without having the good sense to fork a couple onto my plate. My aunt would eat a tomato like an apple!
This is not the column about my cornbread (which is perfect). That will come later when we delve into the proper method of making Cornbread dressing, close to Thanksgiving. But you will need a mighty fine cornbread to go with this recipe. For a little history, I will tell you that I made my first batch of cornbread one summer day when my mother had taken to her sick bed. (This is a rarity for my mother who is the original inspiration for the Energizer Bunny.) She had veggies cooked for lunch. In his new job, my father was able to come home for lunch, rain or shine, which was a nice break from the stress of retail management.
She told me to go make the cornbread for his lunch. At this point in my shaky culinary career, I don't know if I had even baked a cake mix. She told me the "Red and White Checkered Book" and the title. Those were my instructions. I know you are thinking this is a lot of info on cornbread, how could there be more if this isn't THE column, but I am the Cornbread Diva and my vast knowledge can't be contained here. This is supposed to be about Pea Salad.
I don't know if Pea Salad is a family invention but I do know I have yet to sit down at another table serving purple hull peas and see this accoutrement. But I forgot about the purple hull peas!
I know I have eaten Black-eyed Peas but not by choice. Purple hull peas are the purest choice for those of us down south just like we know the right way to pronounce pecans (pu = pu(ff) + cons ). Pettest peeve - not PEECANS. That is just rude. Not PEECONS. Senseless. Enough.
Fresh Purple hull peas (which will turn your fingers purple if you shell them but that is what shelling machines were invented for so spend the extra unless you want sore purple fingers or you wish to inflict a character lesson upon a child) after shelling, must be washed in a colander to pick out any bad peas (very, very few). Place them in a big enough pot to cover well with water and leave room for a small simmer. It is tempting to boil but it will make them tough. Cook them on low, very slowly. They have a little scummy foam (nothing bad) you will need to slough off with a spoon during the first part of cooking. They are best cooked for about an hour and a half or longer. But not to the point of being mushy. You may need to add a little water as the juice boils off. You want more juice than peas. Add salt and pepper to taste. And also add, the butter of the south, a good tablespoon of bacon grease. It doesn't take much but flavors perfectly. They are not to be swimming in bacon grease, just gently flavored. This is the secret to using bacon grease, less is really more. Once they are seasoned, you can keep them on the stove until the rest of the meal is ready.
My great-grandparents had several hotels in different little towns throughout their career and sons who would follow in their footsteps. Some of these hotels also had dining rooms and hotel kitchens. Knowing my love of cooking and family, my uncle has been so good to share with me some of my great-grandfather's cooking leaflets and recipes. Unfortunately, I think most of the recipes were those he knew by heart and never wrote down. But now that I'm writing about Pea Salad, I think maybe this is where it originated, for our family. My dear sweet Burt, who was born in a border state with the Mason-Dixon running through it, loves Pea Salad on his purple hull peas and cornbread.
Measurements are approximate. You need:
1 good size green bell pepper/ 1 small onion/ 1 medium tomato
1 tsp. sugar(I forgot to put the sugar in the picture)/ 1 tsp. salt/ 1/2 tsp. pepper/
1/2 tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar/ Equal parts water and white vinegar
Clean and seed bell pepper. I used three rings of pepper, dicing the rings into small pieces, as pictured. / I peeled and sliced and diced most of the onion, small pieces. / I peeled the tomato and sliced and diced it into small pieces./ Add water and white vinegar in equal parts, more on the vinegar side. Add salt, pepper and sugar. For something different, I added the Balsamic vinegar and it works great. Chill before serving. The longer this sets, the tastier it gets. To serve: Slice and butter a piece of hot, out-of-the-oven cornbread. Open cornbread up and add hot, cooked purple hull peas on top of the cornbread, with a little bit of the pot juice also. Top this with cold Pea Salad but don't use a slotted spoon. You will want the tangy vinegar dressing. Add a little or a lot, depends on you. There will be several layers of taste sensations. You may consume another serving. It is also permissible to make your entire meal of just cornbread, peas, and salad. As my Pa would say, "Mighty fine, best I ever had." You have arrived. (Like the country.)
a woman with butter dripping down her hand as it melts on hot cornbread (the dessert slice)
**I wonder if anyone else has a similar salad for peas?
**This is also a necessity on New Year's Day and is delicious with Prime Rib, Ham, or Fried Chicken.