Farmers’ Markets have never been more popular throughout South Carolina. They are everywhere – even in churches, hospitals, malls and private community town centers. Certified farmers’ markets may occasionally be small, but they make up for size by offering a rainbow cornucopia of the finest seasonal farm-to-table foods available. Two of my favorite local Columbia markets are the Sandhill Farmers’ Market ( open Tuesdays from 2:30 P.M.-7:00 P.M.) and the Farmers’ Market at Richland Mall (open Wednesdays from 3:00 P.M. until 7:00 PM). They have fresh butter beans and butter peas in plentiful supply right now. Read on for recipes and tips for cooking these Southern treats!
Fresh field peas, which includes butter beans (often called “shell beans”) are legumes that capture the spirit of the South. One of South Carolina’s treasured vegetables, they have earned a place of honor on the Southern lunch or supper plate. Southerners, especially those of a certain age, insist there’s no flavor substitute for fresh-from-the-field peas, beating out dried or commercial frozen. Field peas are labor intensive to pick and can spoil quickly when shelled. South Carolina butter bean aficionados line up to purchase them during the season. They realize how fortunate they are since, this delicacy is not always available in all parts of the south.
Well suited to being grown in our hot and humid weather, butter beans and peas come with names like Dixie Lee, White Acre, Zipper and Lady. There are many varieties and the colloquial names can vary from region to region. Butter beans, a tad smaller than their cousin lima beans, taste better and have a smoother texture. Butter peas are a delicate shell pea similar to butter beans, but smaller. They are often called baby lima beans. More oval and less flat in shape, they are less starchy than butter beans and have a creamy, buttery mouthfeel. Both varieties are very different from round green spring peas (also known as Early June or English peas) or edible, flat snow peas pods.
One-half cup cooked butter beans offer about 7 grams fiber and the same amount of protein. They also provide iron, vitamins and minerals. Nutritionists believe butter beans contain phytochemicals, which may play a role in cardiovascular protection and cancer prevention.
Because they are perishable, cook them right away or freeze for later use. Buy plenty; they can be canned, frozen and even dried for the winter months. Serve them as a vegetable side dish or use for making vegetable or cream soups. Use in salads and main dishes. The cooked peas can be mashed and turned into a delicious custard pie. I have even made sweetened butter bean paste for Asian confectionery.
Last week I purchased some shelled butter peas from J.Mac Farms of Gable S.C. at the Richland Mall Farmers’ Market on the second level parking garage. You will also find them at the Sandhill Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays. I cooked the butter peas with some fresh, tender okra. Here are a few easy cooking tips that will work well for all fresh field peas.
- Before you cook the shell beans, carefully rinse and pick over them, discarding any that look bad.
- The owner of J.Mac Farms explained that he covers shell beans with water then adds flavor in the form of bouillion cubes or granules. I tried this and it was very tasty.
- You can also use chicken, pork or vegetable stock, if available.
- Some cooks skim the surface of the beans after they come to a boil.
- For extra flavor, boil up a ham hock or piece of fatback for an hour before adding the peas. (Add more water to the pot before adding the peas.)
- Or just add bacon or country ham.
- Skip the seasoning meats and stock and cook the peas in water, adding a good drizzle of olive oil or a chunk of butter.
- Plain water is fine, of course, but go for the flavor! Whatever liquid you use, use enough to cover the peas by about one inch.
- Additional seasonings to add (pick your favorites): chopped onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, hot sauce, small hot peppers, fresh herbs or your favorite seasoning blend.
- Bring the peas to a boil; reduce heat and cook on medium-low 30 minutes or the insides are soft and creamy. Cook long enough so they don’t taste “green” but don’t overcook making them soft and mushy.
- After the beans are cooked, serve with or without pot likker.
- Some cooks like to drain the cooked beans then add a little heavy cream and butter to the pot; simmer about ten minutes. Garnish with some chopped cooked country ham and crispy fried bacon pieces.
- Season beans to taste, taking into consideration the addition of salty bouillion or seasoning meat.
- Southern cooks often place a few fresh okra pods on top when the peas are nearly done; continue cooking the peas 10 to 15 minutes minutes or until okra is tender. See photo below.
Butter beans and okra is a delicious addition to any Southern meal, especially with an entree like roast pork or fried chicken. For a vegetarian meal, add several farmers’ market favorites like sliced fresh tomatoes, fresh corn or new potatoes. Prepare a skillet of cornbread or corn muffins using Joe Trapp’s wonderful yellow corn meal (available at Sandhill Farmers’ Market). You can dip the cornbread into small bowls of the delicious, well-seasoned pot liquor from the peas.
A note of warning: Don’t eat limas and butter beans raw. They contain linamarin or cyanogen, which is a cyanide compound that is released when the seed coat is opened. However, it is deactivated when the beans are cooked. Fortunately, commercially grown varieties grown in the U.S. have low levels of cyanide compounds.
Most of Sandhill’s produce vendor’s will have butter beans/peas/crowder peas this week including Dowey’s Farms from Lugoff, Joe Trapp’s Grits, Alan’s Market and HC Farms. They also carry muscadine grapes, okra and watermelons, which are in season. Muscadines are a grapevine species native to southeastern U.S., with colors ranging from bronze to dark purple. (The scuppernong is a large variety of muscadine, often with a bronze skin.) The skins are tough, so bite a small hole in a grape and squeeze out the pulp into your mouth. When ripe, they are very sweet. Muscadines are eaten fresh and used for making pies, jelly , juice or wine. More to come on muscadine pies in an upcoming post.
Butter Bean & Corn Salad
2 cups shelled cooked butter peas or butter beans, cooked just until tender
2 cup cooked corn kernels, from 2 large cobs
1 large ripe tomato, diced
1/2 diced large red onion
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or fresh basil
2 to 3 tablespoons cider vinegar, to taste
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Cook peas and corn separately. Drain and cool then put into a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients, mixing gently to combine. Cover and chill at least one hour before serving.
Pea Cakes With Tomato Salsa
Here’s a slightly more ambitious recipe that’s worth the trouble. It comes from Southern Table, the cookbook of Chef Frank Stitt who apprenticed at Chez Panisse with Alice Waters and was an assistant to Richard Olney, a leading French food writer. The Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham offers the best of Southern cooking with French and Provencal accents. Because of his brilliance in Southern cooking, he is regarded as one of the best chefs in America. This recipe has several sub-recipes, each delicious on its own. For the cornbread recipe, I suggest picking up some of Joe Trapp’s wonderful yellow cornmeal at the Sandhill Market.
2 cups cooked peas, such as pink eyes, butter peas or crowder (below), cooking broth reserved.
1 cup crumbled Corn Bread or more if needed (below)
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 tablespoon minced hot red chili pepper, such as a ripe jalapeno
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, plus extra for dredging
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large egg beaten
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 recipe Tomato Salsa (below)
Puree 3/4 cups of the peas with 1/4 cup of the reserved broth in a blender until smooth. Pour into a medium bowl, then add the remaining whole peas, 1 tablespoon reserved broth, the corn bread, chives, hot chili, olive oil, flour, salt, pepper and mix well. Add the egg and mix again. You may need to adjust the “wetness” by adding a little more corn bread or broth to the mixture; it should be moist enough to hold together.
Form 8 to 10 small cakes by shaping about 3 tablespoon-portions of the mixture into 2-inch-wide disks, compressing the mixture with your fingers and patting it together.
Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Dust the cakes with a little flour and gently place them, in batches if necessary, in the hot oil. Lower the heat to medium and cook, turning once, until golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side. Serve hot.
COOKED BUTTER BEANS
6 cups of water
1 onion, quartered
1 bay leaf
4 thyme sprigs
4 savory spring
1 pound small green butter beans, picked over and rinsed
2 tablespoons fruity extra virgin olive oil, bacon fat, or butter
Freshly cracked black pepper
Combine the water, onion, herbs, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook gently for 15 minutes. Add the beans, adjust the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until the beans are just tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning, and add salt if necessary. Remove the pan from the heat and let the beans rest in their liquid for 10 minutes. (For the Pea Cakes you can stop here. To serve cooked – sprinkle with herbs and drizzle with olive oil. Finish with cracked black pepper.
2 cups self-rising yellow cornmeal (or substitute 2 cups regular cornmeal plus 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup buttermilk
Scant 1/2 cup rendered bacon fat, 7 tablespoons unsalted butter melted, or scant 1/2 cup vegetable oil (or a mixture)
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 450°. Preheat an 8- to 9-inch cast-iron skillet in the hot oven. Place cornmeal and flour in a large bowl and stir in the milks a little at a time, mixing with a large wooden spoon. The batter will be quite loose. Add the bacon fat to the preheated skillet, return it to the oven and heat until the fat is very hot, about 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven. Pour all but 1 tablespoon of the hot fat into the cornmeal mixture and stir to combine. Add the egg and stir to combine. Pour the cornmeal mixture into the hot skillet and immediately place it in the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and unmold. Serve hot.
4 firm, ripe roma tomatoes
1/2 shallot or 2 scallions, finely minced
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
Freshly ground black pepper
Small handful fresh cilantro (or basil), coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped jalapeño pepper
1 tablespoon extra vigin olive oil
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, add the tomatoes, shallot (or scallions), vinegar, lime juice, salt, pepper, cilantro (or basil), jalapeño, and olive oil. Toss gently to combine. May be served immediately. Will keep 3 to 4 hours at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.
RECIPE FROM, Frank Stitt’s Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill
Clemson Extension has a variety of instruction leaflets with the USDA recommendations for safely preserving your produce, with the best quality end product. Go to this web address: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/food/food_safety/preservation/
Sandhill Farmers’ Market – 900 CLEMSON ROAD, ACROSS FROM THE VILLAGE AT SANDHILL, IN NORTHEAST RICHLAND COUNTY AT CLEMSON UNIVERSITY’S SANDHILL RESEARCH AND EDUCATION CENTER
Photos by Susan F. Slack
Photo of Raymond Dowey by Judith Gaskins