One of my favorite springtime rituals is finding purple hull peas at Canino's -- the massive farmers' market complex on Airline at Loop 610 -- and picking up the ingredients for a good, old-fashioned East Texas supper.
Canino's has those peas in right now for a very reasonable price: $5.99 for one and a half pounds. Purple hull peas are not to be confused with other cowpeas such as black-eyed peas or lady cream peas or crowder peas, although they can all be cooked up very simply in the same exact way: boiled down with some salt pork and onions.
Black-eyed peas are beige with a dark-brown "eye," while lady cream peas are light green with no colored eye to speak of. By comparison, purple hull peas are noted for their vibrant green color and vaguely purple "eye," which will turn your salt pork purple as the peas cook.
If you have kids, this is a fun dish to allow them to make alongside you. It's easy, makes very little mess and amuses adults and children alike with that end product purple pork. (I shouldn't have to tell you this, but don't eat the salt pork; it's just for seasoning.)
To go along with the purple hull peas, you'll need a skillet of cornbread. This serves as both a side dish and a dessert, but more on that later. And even though I typically limit my East Texas supper to just peas and cornbread, you can add a protein like fried catfish or frog legs to make it a spectacular feast. (This is saved for guests nowadays.)
Canino's sells nearly everything you'll need to make both the purple hull peas and the cornbread, although it will occasionally be out of buttermilk or creamed corn (and you have to use creamed corn; if you use canned, you will regret it). The eggs are out back in the Egg Hut, if you can't find them.
Purple Hull Peas
If the peas aren't already shelled, shell them. Wash them well. Put in a pot with water that more than covers the peas. Simmer on low and skim off any scum that rises to the top. If your peas are well-washed, this shouldn't happen anyway.
Once your peas are scum-free, add a chunk of salt pork and a few good pinches of kosher salt. Bring the peas to a rolling boil and then reduce to medium. With the lid on the pot, let the peas and salt pork cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until done. Remove salt pork before serving and take time to enjoy the lovely purple shade that it's turned.
2 c. stone-ground yellow cornmeal 1 tsp kosher salt 1 Tbs sugar 2 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp baking soda 1 1/4 c. buttermilk 2 eggs 1 1/2 c. creamed corn 1 1/2 Tbs vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet into the oven while it preheats.
In one bowl, combine the cornmeal, salt, sugar, baking powder and baking soda and whisk to combine. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk (I cannot stress enough how important it is to use buttermilk), eggs and creamed corn and stir until combined. Slowly add the dry ingredients (I do three separate additions, stirring well in between) to the liquid ingredients and stir to combine.
Remove the cast-iron skillet from the oven. Carefully add vegetable oil to the cast-iron skillet and then pour the batter into the skillet. Bake until the cornbread is golden brown and springs back upon the touch, about 25 minutes. Because your skillet is well-seasoned, the cornbread will slip right out and onto your plate.
Eat a slice with butter for supper. Eat a slice with butter and honey (or blackstrap molasses) for dessert.