The middle of the night. I cannot sleep. I am lying awake, staring at my ceiling.
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 do.
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 casserole, two 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 anything from small children who are literally at nostril-level with the mashed potatoes.
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 Ds, 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?”
“Got okra and ham in them. They good.”
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.
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 more lethal, with a lot more rust on the blade.
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. This is much more difficult. I have friends who pay hundreds of dollars for yearly gym memberships. All they need is a corn cutter.
But I don’t mind grating corn. I’d rather cut corn until the second coming of Elvis 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 it. But I will say this: They 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 casseroles, cakes, and platters. Each dish contained enough saturated fat to kill a Clydesdale.
And the field peas. Everyone always went for the peas first. You had to be quick, or the peas would disappear. Sometimes they were gone by the time you reached the dish.
But then, other times you were lucky. Not only would you find plenty of peas, but you would also get a hunk of pork.
When this happens, it is like winning a door prize from above. It is one of those little moments that often go unnoticed. But when you string a million 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.