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This is the time of the year around Southern dining tables when you might hear the phrase, “Pass the peas, please.”
Come the end of June or first of July, the first purple hull, pink-eye, Dixie Lee and blackeyed peas start coming in heavy, along with colossus Southern peas and gallivant cowpeas.
“Most people know what they want when they come up here, and they get what they want,” said Rejeanor Kiefer of Keifer’s Plant and Produce.
At the Wilson County Farmers and Artisans Market Wednesday, Keifer had six boxes of various peas with snap beans.
“Most people like them still in the hull, but I do have a few shelled out,” Kiefer said. “Dixie Lee and purple hull are probably the most popular. Of course, snap beans is at the top, but it’s not necessarily a pea.”
Collin Blalock of Collin’s Produce started his business in 2012 with a third of an acre of Dixie Lee, purple hull and Crowder peas. Now Blalock grows about 6 acres of peas — all picked by hand.
“The crowders weren’t as popular as the Dixie Lees and the purple hulls, so we kind of did away with them and focused on the purple hull and the Dixie Lees,” Blalock said.
Blalock said customers have their specific likes when it comes to peas.
“It’s just like corn,” Blalock said. “Some people like specific varieties, and some people know exactly what kind of pea they want and what size they want it. You start to learn your customers. I’d say the most popular one by far is the Dixie Lee. It’s just a variety that the people have found and they love, and they don’t want anything but that.
“Everybody around here loves them. It’s something people have to have in their freezer.”
Blalock purchased a new sheller and cleaner to help with his peas and butter beans.
“I have got about 11 acres of butter beans this year, and we got that sheller to help out with that, but it will also shell peas too,” Blalock said. “We kind of get the best of both worlds, I guess.”
“The old sheller that we had, we were only able to do 10 bushels a day,” Blalock said. “But this new sheller is supposed to do 45 in an hour, so it frees up a whole lot of labor for use to do other stuff. Last year about July through August, about all we could do was pick peas, pick beans and shell them. It doesn’t bruise them and it doesn’t mash them, and the cleaner does a really good job of sorting out the trash. It’s pretty amazing.”
Kiefer said peas are a Southern favorite.
“It’s a go-to thing,” Kiefer said. “All you have to do is boil it and season it to your flavor. Most people put fatback or a piece of bacon, a little salt and pepper, butter or olive and cook it 35 or 40 minutes or until tender.”
Kiefer said the peas will last in the freezer.
“Once you prepare them, you can actually blanch them and freeze them, and they will keep,” Kiefer said. “It’s not just a one-time eat and be done. You can actually blanch them and freeze them.”
Kiefer has one warning, though, for folks who want to get the peas at the Wilson Farmers and Artisans Market today: Come early. The market opens at 8 a.m.
“Most of the time if you get here later, you are picking through the leftovers,” Kiefer said.