Field peas are one of my favorite summer time treats. Though I spend enough time in summer portioning little bags and stashing them in the freezer that I can enjoy them all year round now. And I’ll be honest; I don’t veer too much off my standard method of cooking them. Peas, water, a piece of pork of some variety, maybe onion or garlic and hot sauce. When the farmers market is going full swing, I even pick up a good naturally smoked ham hock from the fine pork purveyor and make some hock stock to tuck away in the freezer with the peas. Then I can have a quick summery dish of purple hulls or cream peas or zippers or blackeyes or butter beans in the middle of winter.
But I have always wanted to try field peas in a cold bean salad. It makes so much sense in summer, refreshing when the heat is so oppressive. The idea has been rattling around in my noggin for a while, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on where I wanted to go with it. Then, as recipes sometimes do, it literally jumped out of my brain, while I was in the car one day, driving around on mundane errands. I could make a vinaigrette with bacon drippings, coat the peas in rich dressing and add the crispy bacon for texture. From there, pimento peppers and green onions seemed like the most Southern of additions for flavor and color.
In my book, this is the ultimate summer farmers market salad, incorporating many of my favorite Southern farm products. Bags of freshly shelled field peas, the magnificent Berkshire hog bacon, shiny red pimentos and good ol’ green onions (we don’t call them scallions around here). Purple Hulls seem to be the most readily available field pea, but any variety will do. Just adjust the cooking time accordingly, cooked, but still with a little bite. If you can’t find fresh pimento peppers, use jarred and drained pimentos, or keep it fresh with a chopped red pepper.
Purple Hull Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette
2 pounds purple hull peas
2 cups chicken broth
2 fresh pimento peppers
4 green onions
1 pound bacon
For the Vinaigrette
¼ cup bacon drippings, not solidified
½ cup vegetable oil
4 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon sorghum or dark honey
1 teaspoon hot sauce (or more to taste)
Generous grinding of black pepper
Salt to taste
For the Purple Hull Peas:
Place the purple hulls in a large bowl and cover with water. Let the peas settle, then remove any floaters and pick out any trash or bad peas. Use a slotted spoon to remove them to a large pan, leaving behind any debris. Cook the peas with the chicken broth and enough fresh water to cover by an inch and bring to a boil. Spoon off any scum that rises, then reduce to a simmer and cook until just tender, about 30 minutes. For a cold pea salad, you want a little bite to the peas, so don’t let them get mushy. Drain the peas in a colander, rinse them well and drain again. Transfer the peas to a large bowl and chill in the refrigerator.
Cook the bacon until crispy, then remove to paper towels to drain. Save ¼ cup of the drippings for the dressing and set it aside to cool, but not solidify. Dice the crispy bacon into small pieces.
Remove the seeds and the ribs from the pimento peppers and cut into a small dice. Dice the green onions, whites and some of the green parts. Toss these into the bowl with the chilled peas to combine.
For the Vinaigrette:
In a jar with a tight fitting lid, mix all the dressing ingredients and shake vigorously to emulsify the dressing, making sure the sorghum is blended in. Pour the dressing over the peas and stir to coat. You may not want all the dressing. Taste the salad and add some salt if needed. These peas tend to need quite a bit.
Chill the salad until ready to serve. Toss the crumbled bacon into the salad right before serving. The salad (without the bacon) will keep for up to 2 days covered in the fridge.
Serves 8 – 10