Of course, it's easy to find the dried version of these in a lot of stores and some of the specialty markets will even carry the more obscure varieties. But really, there is no substitute for the freshness of flavor of these peas when they are cooked right out of the hull. And my first admission, right from the get go here is that is not what I did, or should I say, not what I am doing, because the pot is simmering away even as I type. I am cooking purple hulled peas that my sister Barbara, who lives in Austin, was kind enough to bring me (in their frozen form) on her most recent visit a few weeks ago.
Most of the articles I've perused on the internet tell me that field peas are the sure sign in the South that Summer has begun. But it appeared to me, while I was living in Austin, that there are a number of varieties that produce well into the fall and it would seem that purple hulled peas are one of them.
One of the great delights of cooking field peas is one that I experienced as well in Costa Rica when I cooked frijoles tiernos (translated as, "tender beans) which are also fresh from the hull. They cook in an amazingly short period of time. While the frijoles tiernos took a whopping 35-40 minutes to cook (because, after all, they were real beans) my purple hulled peas have cooked to a lovely tenderness in the time it took me to write these rambling paragraphs. So now all I have to do is turn the heat way down and let them slowly simmer and marry their flavors with the ham hock I took from our Thanksgiving feast, the chunks of homemade chorizo I used and the aromatic vegetables and spices. And yes, the house is filled with the smell of the cooking soup mingled with the smell of burning oak from the wood burning oven. Take that freezing weather!!!
PURPLE HULLED PEA SOUP/STEW
1.5# Bag Fresh or frozen Purple Hulled, or any field, Peas
1 Big Yellow Onion, chopped
2 Carrots, cut in medium dice (1/2" X 1/2")
2 Stalks Celery, cut in medium dice
6 Cloves of Garlic, smashed and chopped
1 Meaty Ham Hock
1 Spicy Smoked Sausage (chopped)
1 TBS Bacon Fat or a (sigh) canola oil
2 Bay Leaves
1/2 Tsp Dried Thyme (or 2-3 sprigs of fresh)
1/2-1 Tsp Louisiana variety spice mix (I use Kitchen Witch, produced by a friend of mine, but you could use any blackening-type spice mix, I suppose
32 ounces Chicken Stock, boxed broth or water, plus 1 Cup Water
I use a heavy cast iron dutch oven to make this in, but any heavy sauce pan will work.
Heat the pan and add the bacon fat and the chopped sausage. Simmer them until the sausage begins to color and is yielding its fat.
Add the chopped vegetables, the dried herbs and the spice mix. Stir and cook over medium high heat until the vegetables begin to wilt and give off an aroma.
Add the peas to the pot along with the ham hock and cover with the broth and water.
Bring the soup/stew to a slow boil and then turn it down to simmer for 20-30 minutes until the peas are tender. At this point I like to turn the heat down to the lowest simmer and let the soup/stew sit on low heat to allow all the flavors to marry into absolute deliciousness. This will be good today, better tomorrow and better still the following day. And it freezes quite nicely.