Purple Hull Peas

So this was a new one for me: purple hull peas. My favorite local farmers brought these little beauties to market and a pound of them leapt right into my bag. (At least my impulse purchases involve exotic foodstuffs and not junk food!) I can’t resist shelling beans when I can get my hands on them, but these little guys were quite different than spring favas or the cranberry-type beans I sometimes find in the fall. Also called cowpeas, these cousins to the black-eyed pea are apparently treasured in the south but aren’t a common sight for northerners like me.

I was very taken by the coloring of these beans. The hulls are variegated green and deep purple, and the beans themselves range from ivory to pale green, with lovely pinky-purple eyes. Be aware, however, that the hulls are as potently purple as they appear—after shelling a pound of beans, my fingers were stained purple for hours. I wouldn’t cook these with a fresh manicure. 🙂

I cooked up a batch of my purple hull peas very simply, with lots of bacon and onion and enough chicken stock to cover. After about 20 minutes, they were tender and creamy, but I was very pleased to see that they retained most of their lovely coloring, unlike the other shelling beans I have worked with.

To go with the peas, I grilled chicken-apple sausages and made a pan of Peter Reinhart’s bacon cornbread, which has been on my list of must-cook items for ages now. I made a few minor substitutions—a mix of fine cornmeal and polenta, yogurt for buttermilk, and slightly lesser amounts of frozen corn and bacon, to match my pantry’s offerings—but it was deliciously fluffy and sweet and much appreciated by the munchkin, who could not stop nibbling during my photo session.

Purple Hull Peas with Bacon and Onions

1/2 lb purple hull peas
1/2 C sweet onion, diced
2 slices of bacon
1 bay leaf
Chicken stock

Shell your purple hull peas. Meanwhile, in a saucepan or skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until the fat renders out and the bacon is crisp. Remove, drain, and crumble. Pour off all but one tablespoon of the bacon fat and saute the onion in it over medium heat, until lightly browned. Add the shelled peas, bay leaf, and bacon, and pour in enough chicken stock to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook until the peas are tender, about half an hour, adding more stock if necessary. Taste and add freshly ground pepper and a pinch of salt if necessary (it may not, thanks to the bacon). Makes enough for 2 as a side-dish.

But I’m not done yet! Not only did I get two meals from that pound of beans (the second being a braised rockfish dish with tomatoes and leeks, soon to come), but I discovered that you can make jelly from the hulls. Yes, you read that right. I made jelly from pea hulls. Talk about your total use! This jelly falls into the same category for me as corncob jelly, which is pretty and pink and mild, good for glazing pastries like apple or apricot jelly.

Essentially, you just wash and then boil your hulls in enough water to cover them until the water turns a lovely shade of purple, about 15 minutes. Once the infusion, or “juice,” has been strained, you bring it back to a boil and add pectin, sugar and lemon juice; after another 15 minutes it should be ready to ladle into jars. I am not hardcore into canning, so I just used whatever mismatched glass jars I had lying around and cleaned them out well before filling. Since I didn’t bother processing them, I’ll just stash two in the freezer, and keep one in the fridge for taste-testing, even though the lids appear to have sealed just from the heat of the jelly. This jelly tastes very mildly grapey, although I suspect the flavoring comes more from the pectin, sugar and lemon juice than from the actual pea hulls; the latter provide more in the way of color, and hopefully, antioxidants!

Purple Pea Hull Jelly

4 C pea hull infusion (see below)
3-5 C sugar
1 package Sure Jell (or other powdered pectin)
1/2 tsp butter (optional, to reduce foaming)
2 T lemon juice

For pea hull infusion: I got 4 cups of liquid from a pound of pea hulls, weighed before removing the peas, of course! Wash empty pea hulls several times; place in a large pot and add water until hulls are just covered. Boil hulls until they are tender and the liquid is a purple color. Strain liquid through damp cheesecloth, a jelly bag, or an old kitchen towel and return it to the pot.

For jelly: Add Sure Jell and lemon juice to the liquid, along with the butter, if using. Bring to a rolling boil; add sugar and return to a full rolling boil. Boil 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Skim off foam. Pour hot jelly into jars. (If you want to can them for shelf-stability, go through the whole rigamarole of sterilizing the jars and lids, pour in the jelly while still super-hot, seal and process in a hot water bath for the appropriate amount of time. I just made fridge/freezer jam and poured it into clean jars.)

Note: The recipe I used called for 5 C of sugar for 4 C of pea hull infusion. When I pulled out my packet of pectin, it turned out to be a low-sugar variety (which I hadn’t realized when I bought it, but bonus!), so I used 3 C of organic sugar for that amount of liquid instead. It was plenty sweet and passed the wrinkle test after boiling for 15 minutes (freezer-cold spoon dipped into the hot jelly caused it to set and wrinkle within a few seconds), and it set up nicely after a night in the refrigerator.

Source: Slightly adapted from TennZen.

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