ENGLISH PEAS FOR CLIFTON

 By Norris Chambers

             Clifton and I had been pretty busy that afternoon and we approached the supper table with strong appetites. Since it was garden producing season we werenít surprised to see a large bowl of English peas. There were other things, but the peas seemed to be the main course for the last meal of the day. Iím not overly fond of English peas so I ate a couple of small helpings and moved on to other delicacies. But Clifton actually concentrated on the peas and refilled his plate several times. My mother watched closely and commented on Clifton liking English peas so well. I commented that I liked black eyed peas better but Clifton just kept eating.

            That was all it took to brand Clifton as a big lover of English peas and from that time forward all cooks were prepared to have plenty of the little green fellows when Clifton was expected for a meal. He told me that he was really not that fond of the peas but didnít mind eating them. But the damage had been done. Clifton was known far and wide as a person that had to have English peas if they were available.       

When we were in basic training on Catalina Island during the war they did not make an effort to furnish Clifton English peas at the mess hall. I reminded him that he was not being properly fed and he informed me that if he never ate another green pea he would be completely satisfied. After the war we went different ways and were in different eating groups so I never knew whether his pea cravings were satisfactorily fulfilled.

Black eyed peas are more popular than English peas. It is said that if you eat black eyed peas on New Yearís Eve you will have good luck for the coming new year. I reckon that may be true since we always have black eyed peas on New Yearís Eve and I have been pretty lucky all of my life.

There are those who say that black eyed peas are really beans and others who say they are only peas. Research has shown that both arguments are correct. In some areas they are called beans and in others they are known as peas. They taste the same by either name. 

When we were growing up in the country we canned many cans of all types of peas and beans as well as corn, tomatoes, beets and other vegetables. Beans and peas probably required more kid labor than most of the others. First, the pods had to be picked off the plant and then had to be shelled or snapped, depending on the size and development of the pod.

The many tow sacks containing peas or beans were brought to our porch for the shelling process. The porch was well shaded and cool on a hot day. Time and rain had begun to damage the floor. There were cracks in places where two lazy kids could drop unshelled pods through the cracks in the floor and into the darkness underneath. Clifton and I and his little brothers were guilty of this from time to time.

But crime doesnít always pay. One year my dad decided to replace the porch floor. When they removed the old boards there were large stacks of unshelled beans and peas on the ground. There was considerable speculation among the adults as to how they got there. What kind of animal would bring in unshelled pods and pile them there on the ground. The truth began to emerge when someone suggested that they might have fallen through the cracks in the floor when we were canning a few weeks before.

After that thought it wasnít long until someone doubted that so many could have accidently fallen through the holes. My mother asked me if we did it. I stammered a little and suggested that maybe some of the younger kids did it. One of the younger ones happened to be present and he said that it was mostly the older ones who did it to get through quicker. He pointed at Clifton and me. We didnít get spanked this time, but got some strong lectures on why we shouldnít have done it and a stern warning to never do it again. We all promised and we never did it again.

Actually, I like dried beans and peas much more than the canned green ones. The dried beans are harvested by pulling or plowing up the plants after they have died and dried completely. Then the whole stalks are placed on a wagon sheet and beat with sticks. This breaks open the pods and the beans sink to the bottom of the chaff. The beaten up particles are then placed in a bucket and poured from a height back on the sheet. The wind blows out the lighter rubbish and the beans or peas fall to the sheet. This process is continued until the trash has blown out and left only the beans. They will then keep indefinitely without canning and can be cooked any time. There is no better food than red beans and cornbread!

Did we have fun with peas and beans? We didnít think so then, but looking back I think we really did! At least Clifton had fun eating the English peas!