The middle of the night. I cannot sleep. I am lying awake, staring at my ceiling. Something is keeping me awake. But I won’t tell you what it is.
My wife is not snoring. It’s important that you understand this because women do not like to be told that they snore. It makes them very angry, and they will inflict physical pain upon those who accuse them of this vulgar thing. Which I am not doing. Nor would I ever.
As a boy, whenever I couldn’t sleep I would think about food. Some kids counted sheep, some added prime numbers, or recited their ABCs. I counted casseroles.
Before drifting off, I would visualize a grassy meadow filled with little church ladies, all carrying casserole dishes, taking turns leaping over livestock fences while the sheep watched them at a distance. And I would count.
“One chicken casserole, two chicken casserole…” And so on.
If that didn’t work, I would move on to counting pound cakes. When pound cakes didn’t work, I would count field peas.
Which is the point I am at now.
I should probably stop here for anyone who doesn’t know about field peas. I meet a lot of people who hear “field peas” and think of English peas. Which are green pellets often served in sketchy buffet-style restaurants with glass sneeze-guards that do not protect the vats of bacteria laden food from small children who are literally at nostril-level with the mashed potatoes.
No, field peas are different. There are billions of varieties of field peas. I’ll name a few:
Crowder peas, purple hulls, Big Red Rippers, whippoorwills, Stick Ups, turkey craws, Mama Slappers, Old Timers, cow peas, Mississippi Silvers, shanty peas, Iron Clays, Wash Days, Triple Es, Sermonizers, Butt Kickers, Polecats, pinkeyes, and zipper peas.
You haven’t lived until you’ve tried zipper peas with ham hocks and bacon grease.
Years ago, I visited a no-name cafe outside Atlanta. The menu featured only one meal. It was written on a chalkboard. Smoked pork, coleslaw, and zipper peas.
My waitress was an older woman in a white apron.
She said, “Whatchoo wanna drink, baby?”
I said, “What do you have?”
“Tea or tap.”
“You want the special?”
“You want any cornbread?”
“Did you make it?”
“Every day. By scratch.”
“How are the peas?”
She looked over her cat-eye glasses and smirked. “If they don’t light your fire, your wood’s wet.”
It was one of the best meals of my life. At the time, playing over the radio—I will never forget this—was classical music. It was strange music to hear while eating field peas. I would have expected gospel music, or perhaps Don Ho.
So I think about field peas a lot. I also think about creamed corn prepared the way my wife makes it. Which is the same way my father-in-law used to make it. Which was how his mother prepared it. Which was the same way Methuselah taught all his children to cook.
Creamed corn, when made properly, is eighty percent butter and twenty percent tennis elbow grease.
To make creamed corn the old-fashioned way, you must first own a medieval torture device commonly known as a “corn cutter,” or a “corn creamer,” or an “Arkansas Knuckle Buster.”
This apparatus works like a cheese grater, only it is far more lethal, with a lot more rust on the blade. For this reason, it is customarily the husband’s duty to grate corn for the preparation of creamed corn. And it is hard work.
In my lifetime, I have scrubbed oil stains off driveways with wire brushes and rock salt until my hands bled. Creaming corn is more difficult. I have friends who pay hundreds of dollars for yearly gym memberships when all they need is a corn cutter.
But I don’t mind grating corn. I’d rather cut corn until the Second Coming than eat canned corn. And the same goes for tubed biscuits from the supermarket.
There is something weird about biscuits from a tube. They leave a film on the roof of my mouth, similar to what you get when you eat Country Crock.
Needless to say, I hate Country Crock, too. I don’t know what’s in the stuff, or why anyone would buy yellow sludge in a bucket. But I will say this: Country Crock got the brand name right.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t like food so much, but you can’t help the way you’re made. I remember when I was a boy, my mother used to host church get-togethers at our house. All the ladies would arrive early to arrange the buffet table. And I would volunteer to help.
You should have seen the field peas. Everyone always went for the peas first. You had to be quick, or they’d disappear. Sometimes they were gone by the time you reached the dish.
But then, other times you got lucky. Not only would you find plenty of peas, but you also found a hunk of pork.
When this happened, it was like winning a door prize from above. Like one of those little life-moments that go largely unnoticed, but when you string a million life-moments like this together, they make life beautiful.
If you ask me, good food is evidence that no matter what things look like, and no matter what people say, life is good. At least that is what I believe. I’m getting sleepy now. I think I’ll go to bed.
Remember. My wife does not snore.
Penn Wells - July 24, 2021 6:47 am
Careful on the snoring there, big fella! 😎
Steve McCaleb - July 24, 2021 7:28 am
When I was a much younger man my dreams largely consisted of beautiful young girls, tropical beaches and the ‘68 Shelby GT Mushorse McQueen drove in “Bullit”. Now, many years later my dreams have shifted to other delites. Mostly speckled butter beans, fried okra, baby carrots cooked in cow butter, a doublecut pork chop fried in lard, a pone of cracklin cornbread, a sliced betterboy tomato, a purple onion and a Mason fruit jar full of tea with so much sugar in it the spoon will stand up straight with no props. WHOOPEE! Praise the Lord and pass the Lipitor!
Virginia Russell - July 24, 2021 10:14 am
Lady finger peas with sweet stewed tomatoes got me through childhood.
Barbara Smith - July 24, 2021 10:20 am
I love your writings. They can make me feel chuckle at a time in my life when it is hard to feel that way. This one really put a smile on my face. Thank you for that. Barbara
Sonya Tuttle - July 24, 2021 10:24 am
Never knew about these peas until I married a Mississippi man in 1959. Eating at his mothers home was a revelation of food I never knew existed. I had a Yankee mother and a Mexican father. Different food, from different cultures. But it is all wonderful!! Now my Mississippi man wants dinners from every culture, and I learned to cook chicken and dumplings. But we love fajitas!
Ed (Bear) - July 24, 2021 10:51 am
My wife recorded me snoring once so now that the kids have grown, I’ve moved into my youngest’s vacated bedroom.
I realize that us males are forbidden to speak of our wife’s snoring behavior (not that it exists). But I can hear renditions of a buzz saw from our living room through her closed door.
It’s probably just the wind.
Barbara Shealy - July 24, 2021 3:57 pm
Love your comments!!
Debbie - July 24, 2021 10:51 am
We’re having pork chops for Sunday dinner tomorrow. Looks like I’ll have to head back to the store for some peas.
Kemie - July 24, 2021 10:54 am
Kind of like finding just one more french fry in the grease at the bottom of the bag. If you’re REALLY blessed, it will be the big one. I hope you have that kind of a day!
Leslie W Smith - July 24, 2021 11:08 am
If I cooked peas with only one slab of pork I.woukd lose my pea cooking card. My group goes to battle if one person grabs all the pork. I do love some fresh peas!
Paul McCutchen - July 24, 2021 11:52 am
My wife had a “corn cutter” when we married but it could be because we married latter in life. I prefer corn the way you described which is a good thing because that is the way my wife cooks corn. There is nothing better.
Gay Talbott - July 24, 2021 11:55 am
This ol Kentucky gal would give anything to share a meal with you!
Belinda Crowell - July 24, 2021 12:06 pm
Sean, I think you must love peas as much as I do! My favorite is Dixie Lees. Can’t find them just anywhere. Eastern part of N. C. and S.C. Good food is good medicine. Pains me that the younger generation never experienced shelling peas and cooking them with a piece of pork. Their loss. Keep up the good writing, Sean!
Helen De Prima - July 24, 2021 12:15 pm
Pretty much any kind of dried bean or peas cooked to death with smoked ham hocks. I grow Kentucky Wonder pole beans to eat fresh and snappy, then as shell beans (the best incarnation), and finally as dried beans with hocks.
Liza Bragg - July 24, 2021 12:32 pm
Wow! 8:39 in the morning ing and I’m hungry for field peas and corn bread…and I’ve never eaten field peas before!😊
Jean - July 24, 2021 12:35 pm
Peas…..purple hull peas….my fav….and if I could suggest my last meal…it would be purple hulls….creamed corn…fried okra… cornbread…sliced tomatoes and some onion thrown in for food measure!
Ann & Sam - July 25, 2021 2:37 pm
My husbands favorite from your articles that we read each morning with our coffee. Speaking of corn, I fry bacon, take it up, then pour In That fresh cut off cream corn. I crumble up that bacon in my corn. Fresh sliced tomatoes make it a good Southern meal all by itself!! Mmmmmmm!!!!
Kate - July 24, 2021 12:46 pm
My favorite is Lady Finger Peas. I recently moved to Florida from Georgia and I have not been able to find peas until the other day I went into Nelson’s Family Farm and they had Zipper Peas, They didn’t have many but I bought them all, shelled them, and cooked them. They were heaven. Tried growing some Lady Finger Peas, but found south Florida is just too hot to grow much of anything, at least in the summer. The next place I live will have zipper peas and lady finger peas. Somethings one should just have in their lives.
Ernie - July 24, 2021 1:05 pm
County Crock will be mad about this. But you’re still right.
Ernie - July 24, 2021 1:06 pm
Oops. Country. Not County. But a more limited distribution of that stuff would be appropriate.
Leigh Amiot - July 24, 2021 1:08 pm
Black-eyed peas, turnip greens, cornbread in pot likker…who needs meat with that?!
Mike - July 24, 2021 1:36 pm
Everyone knows that the only reason to buy Country Crock is to use to container for leftovers! 😂
billllly - July 24, 2021 1:45 pm
You know how to make my appetite go wild! The best tasting field peas, in my own humble opinion, are Lady Fingers, although they are so small it seems to take a half a day to shell enough for one meal. Add some corn pone, fried okra, real grown for taste not the market old fashioned tomatoes, stewed and/or fried squash, speckled butter beans… You starve an ole boy to death. I’m back on Bigmother and Papa’s farm near Opp. And creamed corn. Papa had seed that had been in his family since before they moved from Fleahop to Opp. I remember him buying seed corn for the big fields, too – Dixie 18?
Suellen - July 24, 2021 2:11 pm
I’ve lived such a sheltered life here in Indiana. After reading this I did a search for field peas and, oh my Lord, so many varieties I’ve never heard of and they all look delicious. Here we’re kind of stuck between navy, northern, or pinto with the recent addition of black beans. I’m going to have to search for some of these others now.
Rhonda - July 24, 2021 2:38 pm
Peas out brother
AlaRedClayGirl - July 24, 2021 3:05 pm
Oh, how I wish for a plate of my daddy’s pinto beans, cornbread, and fried corn (not creamed). It was to-die-for delicious. Actually, any variety of bean or pea is delicious except for English peas; those are just nasty.
pam's porch - July 24, 2021 3:10 pm
If only I had a dime for each purple hull I’ve picked, shelled & eaten in my life!
Kathy Coxwell - July 24, 2021 3:30 pm
So far this summer I have put up Two bushels of the following: Pinkeye Purple Hulls, Lady Peas( which you neglected to mention), Crowder Peas, and Tiny Limas. Next week I will make the trip from Monroeville again to get my Zipper peas ( also 2 bushels).
This bounty of wonderful annual delights come from my friend who lives in Autauga County, but whose address is a County Road in Verbena, just south of Clanton. The peas are shelled, washed, and. Look like varicolored pearls in their fully filled Ziplock bags.
We visit for a few minutes, sometimes in the small store, and sometimes outside. I’ve be able to meet other members of her family, all involved in getting to the fields at first light to pick the ‘field peas.”
My friends say, “ Why do you drive all that way when you could get them in ————.? “ Because I wouldn’t get to see my friend, who always makes me call when I get back home to let her know I’m safe.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - July 24, 2021 4:28 pm
Christina - July 24, 2021 3:32 pm
I love learning about field peas and the stories around it. I think that’s what makes them extra special.
cthillbilly - July 24, 2021 6:19 pm
Lordy. lordy.Once you’ve had ’em, a lifelong desire.In addition to shelling, I had to help Mama Lily scald the chicken to pluck feathers. Nasty smell.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - July 24, 2021 4:26 pm
Linda Moon - July 24, 2021 4:54 pm
It takes me a while to get to points. Your point was worth waiting for because I love and know about field peas. Two of my favorites were in your list: pinkeyes and zippers. My mother hosted lots of church get-togethers and family gatherings, and she often served creamed corn and field peas with her main dish. I snore. My mother did not. But she and I together believed in the good, both in people and food. She would’ve thought you and your non-snoring wife were good…I certainly do!
Paul Moore - July 24, 2021 5:15 pm
Field peas you get in a can or frozen is not field peas. Don’t know what they are But you made me think of sitting at my mamas table mixing field peas with creamed corn and fried okra and pushing it up on a fork with a slab of iron skillet cornbread. Thanks for taking me home Sean
Ladson Golden - July 24, 2021 6:16 pm
I’m with you…I love field peas too. I’m looking at some Red Ripper and some Whippoorwill peas that outta be ready in a couple weeks. My fav is SaDandy but are difficult to find.
Country Crock. Did you know that there are only two molecules difference between that stuff and creamed styrofoam? I know this because like you I went to corlledge this I r edgicated.
Keep on writing!
Bev London - July 24, 2021 7:02 pm
Sorry you couldn’t sleep, but . . .thanks for making me smile.
Thank you for helping us slow down long enough to remember to appreciate the little things. We all know the little things really are the big things. ❤️
Count those peas.
Judy E Baker - July 24, 2021 7:42 pm
Our little town of Charleston, Tennessee was once known as the Cowpea Capital of the nation, possibly the world because so many were grown and shipped through here. We have celebrated that for the past several years with a festival celebrating the cowpea every September.There is a cook off featuring professional chefs preparing their best cowpea recipe, music of the bluegrass, country or gospel persuasion, homemade crafts, storytelling and lots of food. The festival serves as a major fundraiser for the Huwassee Heritage Center in Charleston, Tennessee. Charleston was the site of Fort Cass, the emigration point for the Trail of Tears.
MAM - July 24, 2021 7:47 pm
I didn’t see black-eyed peas in the list, but I think they are of the same group. Yum, cooked with bacon grease with ham and well-buttered cornbread on the side. We eat them on New Year’s Day for luck the rest of the year. In France, they eat lentils that day for the same reason. Canned ones are disgusting, but if we can’t find fresh ones, some years, we’ve had to settle for frozen black-eyes.
Peggy ALEXANDER - July 24, 2021 7:59 pm
Y’all forgot to mention the family and friends “ get together “ in the living room with the boxed fans blowing’ and kids running around everywhere. This is after picking them in the hot fields. But oh sooo good😋😋
Pat Deas - July 24, 2021 8:36 pm
Boy you are a Foodie at heart for sure…it’s a good thing you are a southern boy,l can’t imagine what your life would have been had you been born on the “ other “ side of the Mason Dixon line. I was born and raised in Montgomery in the fifties and the two things we girls were taught to do was cooking and fishing. Just got through rolling dumplings for supper and I sure do wish I had a pot of white peas to go with them …yummy yum to you!
lynda - July 24, 2021 9:03 pm
Can somebody please enlighten this Idaho girl…….what is country crock? Love your stories Sean!
Joann Thompson - July 24, 2021 9:44 pm
A variety of soft margarine. It’s not worth buying, believe, me.
H J Patterson - July 24, 2021 9:27 pm
All peas MUST be cooked in pork, be it fatback, salt pork or my favorite, smoked ham hocks. I like minced vidalia onion and hot sauce with some of mine or a few drops sherry vinegar on zipper peas – mumbus!
Joann Thompson - July 24, 2021 9:37 pm
What a coincidence! I made creamed corn for my husband today. I don’t have the corn cutter, so I use a sharp knife to first cut the tips off the kernels, then I go back over the cob and cut a little deeper. Next I use a metal grater to go around again to get the last vestiges of corn out, and finally, I use the back of the knife to scrap the cob and get any milk that might remain. Thank goodness it only takes 2 cobs of fresh corn to make enough for a meal for us. Cook it slow and add some half and half along with salt and pepper near the end of cooking. Mighty good. Loved the memories of peas, I’ve not had all of those, but zipper cream, crowder, and pink-eyed purple hull are a favorite in our house. If you decide to talk about green beans, I hope you’ve had some rattlesnake beans. Hands down the best. We had those out of the garden today, also along with grilled catfish.
Susan Corbin - July 24, 2021 9:48 pm
I don’t believe I’ve ever had field peas in my life. Where can I find them? And I’m so glad I’ve finally found someone to corroborate my experience with tube biscuits! That always left a film on my pallet and now leave that film on my false plate! Its horrible!
erica - July 25, 2021 12:22 am
My south Ga son-in-law has the best name for tube biscuits… whomp biscuits!! Think about it …
Robert-Louis Davis - July 25, 2021 1:29 am
I used to think there was just the black eyed pea until I moved to west Tennessee in 2006. That is when I learned of the Purple Hull pea. Now I will have to see if I can locate some of the others on Amazon. Love peas and cornbread, that Jiffy Mix ain’t bad.
Martha - July 25, 2021 2:07 am
My family grew pink-eyed purple hulls. I suppose it must have been a marriage of pink eyes and purple hulls, but they got married for at least 60 something years because I’ve shelling them since I was 8. They make your fingernails purple if you shell enough for a mess….. My eldest brother usually grows some new-fangled zipper. I love to eat both. .
Nancy M - July 25, 2021 3:45 am
Loved this! Mouth waterin’ good! Have you ever heard Jerry Clower talk about biscuits? Google Jerry Clower biscuits video on YouTube. I couldn’t find the URL.
I hope you have a better night’s sleep tonight.
Joanne Viola - July 25, 2021 11:59 am
I so enjoy your writing as you either make me cry or laugh. Either is welcomed
Joanne Viola - July 25, 2021 12:01 pm
I love your writing as you either make me cry or laugh and either is welcomed! Your thoughts on Country Crock sludge made me laugh this morning, and I thank you.
PS – Not only does your wife not snore, but this is misinformation men have spread about women so they feel better about their snoring 🙂
joyce Daniels - July 25, 2021 2:19 pm
Sean, in Gadsden, AL we called it fried corn. You forgot the most important part-milking the cob. You are right! It is a labor of love.
Pete - July 25, 2021 4:24 pm
I have the answer to one of your prayers. Search EZCreamer.com. The corn husking//brushing/creaming nightmares that we experienced as young boys growing up in the south are over. Check it out. You might even want to add a tip when your order! If you don’t, you’ll probably be calling Kerry to apologize after your first several bushels are in the freezer in record time. Enjoy!
Charmion Grant - July 25, 2021 5:18 pm
Love field peas!!!
Lady peas are my favorite but hey it eat them all.
I shelled a half bushel of purple hulls a few weeks ago and got 7 1/2 lbs of peas which are now in my freezer. 🥰
I need more.
I actually read an article this woman from Southern Living wrote telling people about peas and what to do after you “shuck” them🤦🏼♀️😳… lady you shuck corn and shell peas! I love shelling peas using my wooden mother gave me listening to good old gospel music!
It reminds me of shelling peas and butter beans with my mother, Grandaddy, and siblings. If you didn’t shell you didn’t eat.
Good times talking and shelling.
People should do more of it.
Love your stories!❤️
Gloria Knight - July 25, 2021 10:11 pm
All these replies take me right back to my GA Grandmother’s kitchen. Fresh corn & peas from the field or garden. Now I’m hungry!
Kim Story - July 26, 2021 2:30 pm
Field Peas – yes, yes, yes! I just got three bushels of Lady Fingers and they’re going in my freezer now. There is nothing better than a plate full of fresh peas, fried okra, home grown tomatoes and biscuits.
Budd Dunson - July 27, 2021 11:57 pm
Early 1980s Arkansas City, DeSha county, Arkansas, Blue Front Cafe menu Chikken. One of the beat meals of my life. I promise the menu written on a chalkboard said Chikken.
Ginger Smith - July 29, 2021 2:47 am
I’m on a pea odyssey. I just know there are more varieties out there. I can only find a few to buy and have to go to south Georgia to find butterbeans and crowders. There seemed to be dozens…several dozen varieties…when I was growing up? Where are they now? If anyone knows of different crowder varieties, please let me know. I’m looking for all of them. The darker and meatier, the better.
Bill Harris - July 30, 2021 3:33 pm
Thank you Sean
rightasusual2003gmailcom - August 1, 2021 7:07 pm
I was at my radio club’s yearly picnic yesterday, and I encountered a new pea dish – Calypso Beans. Here’s a recipe – https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/24224/calico-bean-casserole/
Honestly one of the best bean dishes I’ve ever eaten.
Kathi harper-hill - August 14, 2021 10:45 pm
Somebody put up a video on my facebook of two men fixin’ corn. One was fishing it out of hot boiling water. He’d hand it to the other fella. Now this is where it gets…strange. In front of him was what I thought was a pound cake pan (you know, it’s tall an has a middle thing sticking up in the center). But he would stick the corn into that metal hoeld and push it down and out would fly all the kernels into the pan part and the cob would land in a tub under the table. I ain’t never seen anything like it. I’m still in awe.