My favorite southern dish, besides fried okra, is a dish of southern peas and I have come to really enjoy growing them in my 40 square foot raised bed over at the Alpharetta Community Garden. Nothing could be easier to grow.
Southern peas are also called field peas. They include the well known black-eyed pea, but what I grow is a southern pea known as a crowder; specifically Mississippi purple hull. There is also a Mississippi silver and a lady cream pea, and quite a few others.
For some reason these southern peas don't really make the distribution routes to places outside the south. This is rather a shame because they cook up to be one of the tastier and healthier options our nation could be placing on the table.
I will say this though, they do grow best in the south. They like warm weather and they grow well in poor soils, as opposed to rich and fertile places. Farmers will often plant purple hull peas ahead of a nitrogen depleting crop because they are legumes and legumes fix nitrogen. They take nitrogen from the air and leave it in the soil. Or to put it simply, they fertilize the soil.
Cooking them is easy–you simply throw the shelled peas into a pot of boiling water. The amount of time you cook them depends upon their freshness. If I happen to have just picked them from the garden and they are still soft, I will cook the freshly shelled peas about 10-15 minutes. However, if they are dry, it is necessary to cook them quite a bit longer–I'd say a low to medium simmer for about 40 minutes. If you buy them frozen, just follow the directions.
As for seasonings, there are a few options. I will occasionally throw a few pieces of smoky bacon into the water as I set it on the stove to boil, but just as often the only seasoning I use is salt and pepper and no bacon at all. My sister-in-law, whose family has roots many years back in what is now known as Milton, says she grew up eating lady peas mixed with a dollop of mayo. I tried this once and after I added the salt and pepper I did get a nice savory sauce that complimented the peas. Of course, my dad adds chow-chow, either purchased or homemade.
If you don't have the room or desire to grow your own, you can buy frozen southern peas at local grocery stores. They will have names like "Cream Peas" or "White Acre Peas" or "Crowder Peas". Follow the package directions.
You can usually find them this time of year at farmers markets, like the Alpharetta Farmers Market, freshly hulled.