One of the best things about living in the southern United States is fresh peas.  Which are really beans.  But don’t go calling them beans.  Just try to get your hands on some and cook them, knowing they can be a main course, and a really nice break from meat or poultry.

The season for these fresh peas is very short– so the next best thing to eating them in season is eating them fresh frozen– but I wouldnt be surprised if that is a regional option too.  What is nice about having them frozen is all the fresh greens in season in the winter months– I paired these with some really good farmers market red chard.  You can also find the peas dried.

During the summer I eat the fresh bags of purple hull and black eyed peas found in the produce section every week, and there is a recipe for that here.  These particular southern peas were in a cooler near a sample station at Central Market, but they were sampling jars of chili– along with some other random things– so I am not sure what they were doing there.  They caught my eye because of their name– Zipper Cream Peas.

How can anyone resist something called Zipper Cream?  They are close cousins of Lady Cream.  Both are varieties of crowder beans, named for their tendency to be tightly packed inside their hull (or crowded).  These “peas” came from Africa during colonization and the slave trade, and are popular throughout the south, with as many named varieties as there are towns growing them (more than 50! many with equally charming names).  Zipper Creams apparently are easy to remove from the hull, which opens as easy as a zipper.  They are creamy in taste and texture, picked fresh so not too starchy.  They are dinner waiting to happen.

I couldnt resist trying these two ways– one with a squeeze of lemon at the end (which is so good with chard), the other with a splash of half and half.  Both were excellent.  The flavor base is bacon and onion, bay leaf and coriander.

I recommend a hunk of corn bread to sop up the juice.  A one pot meal you will come back to.

Zipper Cream Peas with Red Chard

4 strips of bacon, chopped

1 white onion, finely diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tomato, diced

1 and 1/2 pounds fresh Zipper Cream peas (or fresh frozen, slightly thawed)

1-2 teaspoons salt (to taste)

1/2 tsp white pepper

1 and 1/2 tsp ground coriander

2 bay leaves

1/4 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp dried oregano

4-5 large leaves of red chard, some stem removed, chopped

3-4 cups vegetable stock (just enough to cover peas)

3/4 cup half and half (or juice of 1 fresh lemon)

In a large pot, saute bacon and onion until soft and fat is rendered.  Add tomato, garlic, spices, and chard.  Saute just briefly over medium heat.  Add stock and cover, but do not turn the heat down.  Simmer on medium for 30-40 minutes, until peas are tender.  Add half and half and stir with a wooden spoon until blended.  If using lemon, do not add the half and half– it will curdle.