Like most children, Johnny Welles at twelve was rather oblivious to the world of adults going on around him. His life on the farm with his family consisted of happy days in which he lived secure in the knowledge that he was loved. And then his drunken father decided to return.
The devastation John Welles the elder inflicted upon the family would affect all of them for many years but Johnny most of all. Little did he know that help would come from an aunt he barely knew. His father’s sister, Prudence Welles Mayfield, supplied the much needed means of escape that would set Johnny on the course to becoming a doctor.
Prudence arrived at the farm just as Collie was setting dinner on the table. Without waiting for an invitation, she seated herself, dug in to Collie’s excellent cooking, and proposed the plan that would change Johnny’s life. One of the items on the menu was black eyed peas. The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene.
Black Eyed Peas
1 lb. dried black eyed peas
2 T unsalted butter
6 – 8 oz. pork shoulder, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
6 strips thick sliced bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, pressed
1 1/2 t salt
1 t freshly cracked black pepper (I used quad-colored peppercorns)
1/2 t crushed red pepper
6 cups chicken broth (I prefer low-sodium, low-fat broth)
2 bay leaves
Place the dried peas in a colander and swirl around to remove any loose shells or debris. Be sure to sift through with your fingers to remove larger unwanted particles. Place the peas in a large pot and cover with four inches of water. Soak them overnight, then drain the water and rinse the peas in a colander.
(Quick Soak: Sift the peas for debris, bring them and the water to a boil, cook for two minutes. Remove from heat, cover and soak for one hour. Drain and rinse. They are ready to use.)
Rinse and wipe the pot the peas were in then melt the butter. Add the pork shoulder to the pot and brown on all sides until there is a nice sear on the meat and brown bits formed on the bottom of the pot. Add the bacon, onion, and garlic, and cook until the onion has browned, almost caramelized. Be sure to scrape the browned tidbits off the bottom as it cooks.
Add the seasonings to the pot, being sure to coat the meat and onion evenly, and cook for about two minutes. Add the six cups of chicken stock and bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for about thirty minutes. When the pork becomes tender, add the peas to the pot and simmer until they are very soft, about 1 – 1 ½ hours. When the peas are finished cooking, you can purée one cup of peas and broth and return to the pot if you desire an even creamier consistency.
When finished cooking, remove the bay leaves and transfer the peas to a serving bowl. Vinegar, especially the hot-pepper variety, is often a condiment for this dish. There are also many stir-ins that people add based on the version of black eyed peas they grew up with. Consider a stalk of celery, a chopped red or green pepper, or corn during the cooking process. Some recipes even call for cooking with the bone from the pork shoulder. Remember to remove it prior to serving.