The Less Respectable Legume- Cow Peas

Part of my mission here is not only growing good food for us to eat, but exploring what foods grow here with little to no real effort. Anyone can get tomatoes to grow with enough pesticides, miracle-gro, and water. What foods can we grow with minimal irrigation and our sandy loam soils, and how can I cook them to best showcase their flavor? How can I get my husband and kids to eat them?

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I’m growing three kinds of legumes this year: Caribbean pigeon peas, Jackson’s Wonder speckled butterbeans, and black-seeded cow peas. The pigeon peas aren’t producing yet. I grew the butterbeans last year but this year was won over by all of the gardeners and farmers describing growing cowpeas as “nearly effortless”. They were not exaggerating. Cowpeas, a big family of legumes that includes black-eyed peas, zipper peas, clay peas, crowder peas, and cream peas, have been considered animal fodder and food only fit for the poor for a long time. This family of legumes were probably brought here from West Africa with slaves, but they’re also eaten all over India. They aren’t well-respected. I have never seen them on a restaurant menu. Black-eyed peas are barely respectable due to Southern New Year’s traditions.

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So far, the black-seeded cow peas are leaving the butterbeans in the dust. The clearly love the heat and are producing like crazy. There are many more peas per pod than butterbeans, even though the beans themselves are much smaller. This year isn’t a fair representation of whether they’ll grow without additional irrigation because we had 45 days of rain every day, but they’re handling the humidity like champions with no sign of disease. The butterbeans, on the other hand, are all covered in rust and will probably have to be pulled early.

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Butterbeans on the right, and black-seeded cow peas on the left.

I’m not keeping production records like I ought to but so far it looks like the cowpeas are smoking the butterbeans. If I can find enough recipes that my family likes, I might drop butterbeans next year and grow more cowpeas!

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