Olde Tyme Techniques: How to Put Up Heirloom Field Peas for Winter

Got me some olde tyme country knowledge recently at my sassy elder cousin's house.

(Not just the lesson that you've got to have a separate beer fridge and coozie basket on your screened porch if you're really going to take summertime seriously -- which they do.)

This time around, I learned our family's generations-old method of "putting up" fresh summer field peas for the winter (that means freezing them), passed to my cousin by her mother, my heroic, super-rad great aunt Sue, who learned it from her mother growing up out in rural Kershaw County, SC, and so on.

I got these Dixie Lee field peas (3 lbs. worth) at our fancy little once-weekly, all-local farmers' market the other day.

Decided to put 'em up using the old ways.

(After saving out a few cups for my sassy summer succotash recipe, of course.)

If you've had fresh field peas*, which for some reason are completely unavailable in many parts of the country (the San Francisco area, for example, where I looked high and low to no avail), then you know that they are tasty, waxy little spring green morsels of low-calorie vegetable delight. There are a number of heirloom varieties: White Acre peas, Dixie Lees, Pink Eyes, Zipper peas, etc, most of which look like black eyed peas but are far less starchy with a lighter, grassier flavor.

Unless you've frozen your own, or know a local grocer who carries them frozen (big chains usually don't have the heirloom varieties), you can't get them in the winter. In summer, we usually get them at the big statewide farmers' market for about $4/lb., $15 for 4 lbs, and $28 for a bushel (8 lbs.), already shelled.

You have to do five things, really, to put up field peas for the winter (all while sipping an ice cold, cheap, light American beer, ideally):

1. Pick out the bad ones. Look especially for tiny little erums** that might be wriggling out of the peas they've colonized. (Happily, I haven't run into any yet, in three batches of field peas.)

2. Wash them twice in a basin of water, not just through a colander.

3. Blanch them; bring a big pot of water to a boil, then throw in your peas.

Leave them in there until the water starts boiling again.

4. Transfer the peas to an ice bath (half water, half ice) to stop the cooking, then drain.

5. Then bag and freeze them! Use freezer-safe bags, and not the slide lock kind. They don't seal as well.

My family uses quart bags, but I am trying out another method: flattening the peas (without mushing them) into a thin layer in a gallon bag.

I'll just break off however much I need when the time comes, then rebag the rest, like an old friend of mine does with chicken stock.

(Why? Cause I'm out of quart freezer bags and I forgot to get more at the store.)

Once you've popped those bad boys in the freezer, you're golden.

Or spring green, anyway.

Don't forget to reserve a cup or two for cooking this week! They'll keep about a week in the fridge.


Cook peas all the way by boiling them further til tender, 10-25 more minutes depending on the type of pea. Feel it out.

- summer vegetable succotash with sweet corn, fresh tomatoes, mild onions, fresh basil
- vegetable pot pie
- summer vegetable pancakes (bisquick pancake batter, corn, shredded zucchini + squash, diced jalapeno, shredded sharp white cheddar, field peas -- all veggies pre-cooked except for jalapeno and corn)

Um, I'm getting hungry. I will chat with you later. Please let me know if you have any other field pea recipes!

*I posted last year on butter beans, but I am a doof and didn't remember that down South, there is a difference between butter beans and field peas. Butter beans = lima beans and that sort of thing. Field peas are their own thing. There are lots of good pictures in that post, though! And some good info, even if my naming was a bit off. Whatever, I was tuckered from shelling my own crowder peas, dawg!

**Great Aunt Sue extolled the virtues of first examining an entire bushel of shelled peas closely, in small batches, looking closely for rotten bits and worms.

She disliked worms so much that she referred to them as "erums" so as to not gross herself out. Her husband Wilba noted recently, laughing, that putting up field peas with Sue was a real task, as she insisted on scrutinizing each pea individually.

"Each pea, girl. EACH PEA."


  1. Found your blog through the Shop Tart and simply have to ask about the succotash recipe. Are you willing to share?? :)

  2. Here's my succotash recipe, with the vegetarian modification that I cooked last night!

    Scroll to bottom of post.



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