Charles Walton IV / styling Cindy Manning Barr
At the Curb Market in Montgomery, a stall named Pea Heaven sums up the market's bounty. It is high season for Southern peas, and folks here know this is the place to find them. Bags of purple hulls are stacked on crates of crowders; mounds of shelled black-eyed peas fill bins; delicate lady creams delight an elderly shopper.
The people here are particular about their peas. Some prefer the hearty, dark-meated types such as black-eyeds, crowders, and pink-eyeds; others cherish pale lady creams and butter peas. Margaret Still, who works at the market, favors pink-eyeds. "They make a dark soup," she says. "I cook them with a little piece of fat meat. My family loves 'em with cornbread."
At Pea Heaven, Whipporwills are the specialty of the day. These peas are small, dark, and speckled. "They cook up darker than a crowder," says Vivian Tatum, who operates the stall. She also offers lady cream peas, which resemble kernels of corn cut from the cob. "I like to cook them with some butter or bouillon," she says.
Though answers may differ on which pea is preferred, few disagree about what to serve with them--chowchow. The condiment's sweet spiciness perks up Southern peas. While a mound of chowchow with a dish of peas is a staple, which type to serve can be hotly contested. But whether one prefers sweet or hot is a moot point as long as all agree that peas call for chowchow.
These recipes offer fresh variations on several popular pea varieties. And what our chowchow lacks in heat, it more than makes up for in flavor.