I grew up eating red beans and rice, love black beans and have even grown to like black eyed peas, so when I saw these fresh Sea Island red peas at the Farmers Market I was excited to give them a try. They are local and considered a heritage food to the coast of South Carolina, though the history of this dish and the etymology of the name are probably the most delicious things about it. I hate to admit it, I was so excited when I bought these peas which are so unique to the Lowcountry. I bought them knowing that I could use recipes that dated back to South Carolina’s ugliest days of rice plantations on the barrier islands, recipes that stem from the overlapping of the slave culture and the Italian engineers from the Veneto who were hired to develop the bay systems for rice cultivation, prior to enslaving Africans from the Ivory Coast.
I was thrilled that I would have an opportunity to sew an Italian thread in a traditional Gullah dish of the Lowcountry. The Venetians have a rice and peas dish called risi e bisi, which is where the name Reesy Peezy came from, a cultural overlapping which was a complete surprise until I started doing a little research on different ways to prepare these peas.
The unfortunate thing is that the end result looked and tasted a little like gruel. I realize now that I should have picked Mrs. Fields’ brain for ways that she would prepare them, and will be open to trying all of this again when the markets are open in April, maybe with a recipe that is slightly more modern and less gruel-like.
from Anson Mills Recipes
- 1 quart Smoked Ham and Chicken Stock, defatted
- 1 cup Anson Mills Sea Island Red Peas, soaked in water and refrigerated overnight, then drained
- ½ yellow onion, peeled, cut through root end and left intact
- ½ carrot, peeled
- 2 small inner celery ribs, leaves attached
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 small Turkish bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- Fine sea salt
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or more, to taste
Bring the stock to a simmer over medium-high heat in heavy-bottomed 3-quart stockpot. Stir in the peas, the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, bay leaf and curry powder. Return the liquid to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot partially and simmer gently until the peas are tender, stirring occasionally, one to 1 ¼ hours. Remove the braising vegetables. Stir in the salt to taste and pepper flakes. Remove one-quarter cup or so of peas and broth and puree them in a blender or food processor. Return the puree to the pot with the peas. (Alternately you can use a burr mixer to puree some of the peas or mash them directly in the pot with a potato masher or fork.) If the gravy is too thick, thin it with a bit of water. Stir in the reserved ham if desired. Heat through. Taste for seasoning. Serve hot over Carolina Gold Rice Grits.
Makes about a quart; serves 4 to 6