Cory Farley, voted "Best of Reno" 26 times in 27 years by readers of his column in the Reno Gazette-Journal, takes an unconventional look at topics from presidential elections to the best way to cook Brussels sprouts.

Location: Verdi, Nev, United States

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

It's not too late for Mrs. Farley's cow pea soup

As everyone with roots south of Atlanta (not me, but my mother) realizes, the only way to be sure of a healthy and prosperous new year is to eat black-eyed peas on Jan. 1.
Black-eyes are a common legume in the south, but you don't see them much in Nevada. A few restaurants with country or southern pretensions serve them, but otherwise you're pretty much out of luck.
My mom was born in Florida, and while 20 years in California had buffed off her accent by the time I came along, she'd kept a few expressions and idioms from her homeland. Where in a moment of frustration I might blurt, "@#$%*!), for instance, she'd say, "Land sakes" or, "Well, I never!" I sort of get "I never," but I've been puzzling over the meaning of "Land sakes" for more than 40 years.
And she called black-eyed peas "cow peas," at least until my brother and I got old enough to laugh at "cow pea soup."
January 1 was also my father's birthday, and to the extent that Californians have traditions, his bowl game/birthday brunch was one of them. A pot of cow pea soup--dad's old bean pot, now that I think of it--is simmering on my stove right now, and the corn bread will go into the oven in a few minutes, thus guaranteeing us good luck all year.
I meant to mention this a couple of days ago to give people time to shop, but you only need a few ingredients, most of which you probably already have, and a pound of black-eyes is about a buck-fifty in any grocery store. There's still time.
Don't omit the cornbread; it's an important part of the meal. Use any recipe you like (I follow the one on the Alber's corn meal box), but there's one important rule: Preheat the oven with a cast iron skillet inside. When the batter is ready, drop a dollop of shortening or butter into the hot pan (handle it with a pot holder, or you'll get a new appreciation of the word "sizzle"), give it a quick swirl to coat the bottom, then pour the batter into the pan and quickly close the oven door. That's how real cooks get that crusty finish on their corn bread.
Black-eyes are traditionally eaten in a recipe called Hoppin' John, of which there are about a zillion versions online. They cook more quickly than most dried beans, so pre-soaking isn't really necessary no matter what the package says. Just plan to add a extra half-hour or so to the cooking time (that's true of all beans, by the way--I cook them a lot, and sometimes I soak overnight and sometimes I don't. I can't tell a difference in the finished product).
In addition to the black-eyed peas, you'll need some kind of porky meat (ham hock, ham, bacon, salt pork, kielbasa, whatever), an onion, half a red or green bell pepper if you like those, a clove or two of garlic and the usual seasonings. Don't get hung up on specifics or amounts; one of the good things about beans is that they provide a flexible palette for the imagination.
Finally, a pound of beans is a lot; for two people I often just cook up a cup or so, reducing other ingredients accordingly.

Put the beans, a bay leaf if you have one and enough water to cover them by an inch into a pot, bring them to a boil, then turn down and let them simmer until they're almost tender. This can take from an hour or so to two hours or more, depending on several factors we don't have room to cover here.
NOTE: If you're using a ham hock, put that into the pot, too. If you're using one of the other meats, don't add it yet.
While the beans simmer, dice the onion, pepper, garlic and a stalk or two of celery (including leaves) if you want. Cut up the bacon or ham and fry it in another pan for a few minutes, drain off excess grease, then add the cut-up vegetables to the same pan and saute them until the onion is golden. Remove from heat and set aside.
When the beans are half an hour from done (just guess; it's not critical), add the other ingredients, some cumin and thyme and one cup of white rice (per pound of peas--reduce if you're cooking less). Return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the rice is done, 25 minutes or so.
If the pot looks too watery, keep the lid off during this phase so some can evaporate. If it's too dry, add just enough water to cover, but keep an eye on it--the rice will soak up liquid as it cooks, increasing the chance of burning.
Serve with corn bread, minced green onion and Tabasco sauce. And remember you owe whatever success you achieve in 2008 to cow peas.


Blogger Homer Boone said...

Cory, I am so glad you decided to do this blog when you left the RGJ. I was a regular reader in the newspaper and will continue. Also thanks for the Cow Pea recipe.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Just got to your Blog. Thank goodnees I already had my Black-Eyed Peas! I might try your recipe but to my traditional one I added Roasted Hatch Chili Peppers (yes I saw you buying some at the Farmer's Market)was a nice flavor. I hope it comes with good luck for us all.
Happy New year!

8:17 PM  
Blogger EidolaC said...

You are in deep trouble now. You wrote"Remember you owe whatever success you achieve in 2008 to cow peas." Well! I can only shop on alternate Wednesdays, the next one being January 9th. NO COW PEAS!!!
homer boone, in this blog, wrote "I am so glad you decided to do this blog when you left the RGJ"
Ditto. You would probably be surprised at how many of us are out here.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Cory, last April I moved to Ohio after a 34 year stay in Reno. You were the only reason I picked up the RGJ. In fact I used to suffer withdrawals when you took your vacation and I couldn't read your column. It was home sickness that lead me to looking for you column on line and thus to your blog. You might not feel it now but you've been set free. What a Christmas present for you and for your loyal fans. I can't wait for your book.(you know - the one you've always wanted to write.)
As for the "cow peas soup"; sauerkraut seems to be the luck bearing meal here in the "Buckeye" state. If 2008 doesn't go well, I'll try the beans next year.
Happy New Year to you and your family.

2:29 PM  
Blogger jim p said...

Ther's an old story about Duncan Hines who was a renown gourmet in the early part of the 20th century. He was traveling in South Carolina and was eating at a hotel. He asked the waitress what the soup was and was told cow pea soup. He is said to have replied, if you can make it, I can eat it.

9:50 PM  
Blogger jerhig said...


Just saw the channel 8 announcement that you are going to contribute your opinions to their newscast.

I think that is great though I am sure I will dissagree often.

Don't think the News and
Review is a good idea. Not up to your level.

Jon Ralston made a new career doing the same in LV and you can do it here too.

Good luck.

Jerry Higgins

6:49 PM  

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