Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
Agri Leader

Black eyed peas: The worker bees of Florida ag


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AGRI-CULTURE

If eating a serving of black eyed peas is supposed to bring you good luck, then what happens when you let 5 pounds of them smell up your car one afternoon?

I was traveling a couple of weeks ago in north Florida on a country road when I realized we made a wrong turn, and my phone’s Internet service decided to stop working, offering no help. I spotted a small farm stand and stopped to ask for directions.

For reasons still unclear to me, I ended up buying a 5 pound bag of black eyed peas, a legume I usually only buy around New Year’s Day. I guess I felt bad about asking for directions without doing something for them in return. Yes, I’m a nice person.

We still had a few hours to drive and even with the air conditioning on, we all know it’s summer in Florida, so the bag started to emit a smell. It eventually occurred to us to get the beans into our cooler.

All of that got me curious to learn a little more about this underappreciated ag item that’s a staple of Florida’s summer harvest. I consulted with some sources and looked up information online. If you do the latter, make sure to search “black eyed peas” and “beans” or “vegetables,” otherwise the links you get will be about the pop music group The Black Eyed Peas. Here are some facts you might enjoy:

1. The state’s 2012 agriculture census identified 414 farms growing black eyed peas on a total of 1,568 acres, said Robert Gitzen, a marketing specialist with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The county growing the most black eyed peas is Alachua in north central Florida. If I’m reading my map correctly, the place where I bought my infamous bag was in Alachua County.

2. As I’ve already alluded to, black eyed peas are actually not a pea, they are a kind of bean. They are also called cowpeas or field peas. There are other beans in the same grouping, such as Southern peas, crowder peas, and pink eyed peas, but black eyed peas are the most popular, said Joann Beasley of Beasley Farm in Brooksville.

3. Consider adding black eyed peas to your meals year round, not just on New Year’s Day. They’re high in fiber, protein and iron.

4. Black eyed peas grow in a pod, so users must “shell” them — in other words, they take them out of the pod. It can take four hours to shell a bushel of black eyed peas, said Beasley. “No one wants to do that anymore, although some of the old timers find it relaxing,” she said. She invested in a commercial sheller to get the job done quickly. After shelling, she puts them in bags in a freezer. She’s currently selling two pound bags for $5.

5. The beans create their own heat when they’re bunched together, so they can go bad if they’re not refrigerated or frozen. “Don’t leave them in a hot car all day,” said Beasley. Reflect back on the top part of my story when I left the bag out in my car — oops. Beasley recommended getting them in your fridge or freezer as soon as you get home. Or, to stay on top of Florida’s heat, always have a cooler and some ice packs in your car so you can place perishable items in it on the go.

6. The traditional Southern way to prepare black eyed peas involves simmering them on the stove with water, cooked ham or bacon, and your favorite seasonings until tender. I tried a vegetarian version that included onion, a somewhat mild jalapeño grown in my backyard, garlic and sea salt. They were mild with just a smidge of heat thanks to the jalapeño. I combined them with quinoa that night for a filling, healthy dinner.

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