James Bond's Golden Eyes came to mind the first time I laid eyes on these peas.
"What do you call these?" I asked the older lady manning the farm stand, one of many on HWY 64 between Chimney Rock and Hendersonville, back in October.
She just stared at me, like I just didn't have any sense at all in my head.
Finally, she cocked her head and pointed to the sign below the basket that read YELLOW-EYED PEAS.
"Oh. So how do you cook them?" I asked, undaunted.
She kept staring, then shook her head. "Honey, you do them just like you do black-eyed peas," she said with disgust and turned away.
A SOUTHERN TRADITION
In most regions of the South, peas and beans were dried for winter use. Often times, this staple was all folks had to fill and warm their stomach on cold, dreary days, such as we've been having lately. Traditionally, they were cooked with a bit of fatback, or if they were lucky, a ham hock.
Both black- and yellow-eyed peas are members of the cow pea family, brought here by the enslaved from Africa, and developed by farmers for feeding livestock. Hence the name.
Most folks have Hoppin' John or some such on New Year's Day, with the black-eyed peas representing coins, served with greens of some sort, with hopes that digesting such would produce a good flow of money, green bills or change.
My yellow-eyed peas might bring me GOLD, I hoped, as I stirred the pot filled with the hock of a ham we had devoured during the holidays. I added some kale during the last 15 minutes of cooking for good measure, too, thinking for sure some greenbacks might also come my way.
We devoured the whole pot in one sitting.
With the nasty cold weather we've had lately, I've been thinking about that pot of peas. Truly comfort food, warm and filling, the dish is quite simple and no-nonsense. Just like that old lady. Yet, I'd place that mess of peas right up there on my list of great foods, one that brought me and mine much pleasure. That in itself is good fortune this year.
Before cooking, dried peas and beans need to be either soaked in water overnight, or covered with water, brought to a boil, then soaked from two to four hours. I'll put my leftover stash of dried yellow-eyes in water before I head up to bed.
RECIPE That old lady at the farm stand left me wondering about the best way to use my novelty peas. Fortunately, New Year's Day dictated that I needed to produce something to bring me "luck and money". Forgive the generalities of this recipe, but I imagine it's how my grandmother would have told me to do this!
If you'd prefer, you can do a healthier version of this minus the ham or bones.
about 2 cups dried peas
one onion, chopped
hambones or a bit of chopped country ham
small bundle of kale
salt and pepper to taste
Place the peas in a bowl or pot and cover with about two inches of water. Let sit overnight. Or, if you're in a gall-durned hurry, put them in a pot and cover with water, bring it to a boil, turn the heat off and let them sit for a couple of hours.
Add the onion, and the ham or bones. Bring to a slow boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for about an hour or so, until the peas are tender.
Coarsely chop the kale, and stir into the pot. Continue to cook until the kale is tender enough for your taste, probably about 15 minutes.
Taste and season with salt and pepper. (Be careful with salt, for the ham may have added plenty.)