A Southerner’s Love for Fresh Summertime Peas

Watercolor illustration of a garden gate
Illustrations by Judy Jamieson.

By Ann Dorer

Here in Alabama in the heat of June and July, the song “Summertime” from the folk opera Porgy and Bess sometimes drifts through my mind. “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy . . . ”     

But in midsummer in the Deep South, the livin’ is not so easy, especially if you have coded in your DNA that you must put up enough fresh peas to last you through the winter.

I am not talking about English peas that you may just as well buy in a small silver can or in a loose bag in the frozen section of your grocery store.

I am talking about the wonderful variety of peas available down South. A few of my favorites are:

  • Pink eyes, sometimes called purple hulls because purple is the color of the hulls.
  • Crowders, which are grayish-brown. In both taste and color, they remind my brother of boiled peanuts. (My computer is clearly not Southern—it keeps underlining crowders to tell me it’s not a word.)
  • Zipper peas, which are technically a “white crowder” although these peas are actually light green in color. I’m told they get their name from the fact you can open them like a zipper and soon have a bowlful.
  • Little lady peas, also called white acre peas—but not by me ever since I saw the sparkle in my granddaughter’s eyes when I offered her some “little lady” peas, and she accepted with such delight, saying, “I’m a little lady.”

When is the best time to put up peas?

Never. There are always so many other things that need doing.

But in early summer, when fresh peas come in at the farmers’ market, I rush to buy them—shelled and by the bushel. Once home, I stand—and stand—at the kitchen sink, rinse the peas in a colander, then pick through them, handful by handful, discarding the bad ones. Next, I blanch the peas, drain them, and spoon them into pint freezer bags.

When finally done, I am so thankful to have wonderful peas stashed in my freezer.

I am also thankful the part of my DNA that says you have to grow them, pick them, and shell them yourself is a recessive gene.

Watercolor painting of roses

Every few weeks, former editor and consummate Southern lady Ann Dorer shares her reflections on life in our beloved region. See her previous essay on Becoming a Southern Lady for more of her thoughts on the feminine characteristics we love to celebrate.