ENGLISH PEAS, PURPLE-HULLED, BLACK-EYED, WHITE, CROWDER

They are legumes, but after consulting an encyclopedia and several cookbooks, that's all I know for sure about the name.

At Fawn Grove, we ate English peas and peas, the latter being the black-eyed variety. Our best black-eyed pea was the purple-hulled kind that we canned and dried in great quantities.

What we call English peas here in the South are green peas or garden peas in some sections of the country.

Most sources list our black-eyed peas as beans, and I've come across dozens of names - field peas, cow peas, crowder peas, white beans and red beans, black beans, and even pea beans.

The green variety featured today probably got its Southern name when our forefathers brought the seeds from the British Isles, where the cool climate was ideal for growing this vegetable that we can only grow here in the early spring.

My perusal of books on the subject began after I learned that Jim High wanted a recipe for the English Pea Casserole that Mrs. Lurene Senter served years ago. Mrs. Senter was a renowned cook, and she and her husband served a down-home cuisine that kept the Southern palates of their customers happy.

I've found several recipes for using English peas in casseroles, and I'm pretty sure I'm crediting Mrs. Senter with the one I got from her, but I'll make a sample for Jim to taste-test. As with many casseroles, the ingredients can vary to suit your taste or what you have on the pantry shelf, but I've listed main ingredients and then the possible variations.

The additional English pea recipes that follow came from several sources.

Mrs. Sarah Sharp, 77 Tinin Ter, Corinth, MS 38834, is seeking a recipe for Apple Muffins that she clipped from the Daily Journal several years ago and lost. So far, I haven't been able to find it. If you can help, please send a copy to Sarah at the above address, or to me at P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802.

MRS. SENTER'S ENGLISH PEA CASSEROLE

1 17-ounce can English peas, drained

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 2-ounce jar pimento

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (I like medium or sharp)

2 tablespoons minced sweet onion

Salt and pepper to taste

2 or 3 hard-cooked eggs

Buttered cracker or bread crumbs

Mix all ingredients except eggs and cracker crumbs. Pour half of mixture into a buttered casserole. Slice eggs and layer them on casserole. Cover eggs with remaining mixture of peas and mushrooms. Top with buttered bread or cracker crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until mixture begins to bubble, and crumbs are lightly browned.

I believe Mrs. Senter sometimes used the eggs, sometimes omitted them, and the same is true of the onions.

As in most casseroles, I only use fresh onion when I have Vidalias or other sweet varieties. You can omit them entirely, or use dried onion flakes or onion powder, but use the flakes or powder sparingly until you check the taste.

Other variations include drained water chestnuts, or a small can of white shoe-peg corn, drained well.

Similar recipes use mayonnaise and/or sour cream instead of cream of mushroom soup.

ENGLISH PEA CASSEROLE WITH TOMATO SAUCE

1 can English peas, drained

1/3 cup each finely chopped celery, onion, green pepper

2 hard-cooked eggs, grated

1 can cream of tomato soup

Shredded Cheddar cheese

Mix peas, eggs, celery, onion and green pepper. Salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Place in buttered casserole. Spread soup over top. (If needed, dilute with a couple of tablespoons of water to make spreading easier.) Top with shredded cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

ENGLISH PEA CASSEROLE WITH ALMONDS

1 can English peas, drained

White sauce (see below)

1 cup sharp or extra sharp shredded Cheddar cheese

Toasted slivered almonds

Cracker or bread crumbs

Butter or margarine

Make standard white sauce by melting 2 tablespoons margarine over low heat while stirring in 2 tablespoons flour until smooth. Slowly add 1 cup milk while stirring. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to bubble and thicken. Add salt and pepper, if desired. Add cheese to white sauce to melt; stir in peas.

Make a layer of crumbs - club crackers or Ritz are good - in buttered casserole. Add peas. Sprinkle with slivered almonds. Top with buttered bread crumbs or buttered cracker crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

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