Ode to Ethel & Fred: Purple Hull Peas and Cornbread, with Tomatoes on the side.

It’s been just one year since my grandmother Ethel passed away.  As the first granddaughter, who was very spoiled (loved!), it’s easy for me to say that everyone loved Ethel.  She was the sweetest person.  Having spent nearly every summer in her house, I have wonderful memories of her kitchen.  It was in her very small and cramped kitchen that I first learned to cook.  French Toast it was, and it was my Aunt Carol who guided me through that.  I was only 6 years old, but the cooking bug got me.   Or maybe it was just a love for good food.

Because Grandpa Fred had a very productive garden each year, and a very large fig tree, summertime in Grandma’s kitchen was a hot, hot place to be.  There was lots of blanching, and freezing, and preserving, and canning….figs, tomatoes, corn, purple hull peas, blackberry cobbler, canning pears, crabapple jelly.  Summertime was a busy, busy place in that kitchen.  Nearly every single dinner was accompanied by fresh tomatoes and cucumbers.  And my Grandpa always got sliced onion, too, because that’s the way he liked his onions.  Raw.

As I grew older, the purple hull peas became my favorite meal.  Maybe because I only ever had them at her table that I remember her, and Grandpa, every single time I even think of purple hull peas.  The only time my Grandpa ever punished me was when, running through the house, I knocked over a bucket of freshly shelled purple hull peas.  Gallons of them, ready for the freezer.  That’s a lot of shelling.  Hmmm…

Well, anyway, still one of my favorite summertime meals.  And every purple hull pea dinner was accompanied by some great Cornbread, and, of course, sliced tomatoes.  The best tomatoes in the world came out of Grandpa Fred’s garden.  Every single summer.  Fresh cooked purple hull peas, with cornbread, and juicy, juicy tomatoes.  What a great meal.

Thank you Ethel and Fred, for the wonderful memories!

The peas can be frozen raw, or cook a large batch and stash them in the freezer for a little bit of summertime in the winter.

It’s only because of the tomatoes that Grandpa Fred grew in his garden that drive me to my local Farmer’s Market every summer.  Must have tomatoes!

Ethel’s Purple Hull Peas

  • 2 pounds fresh or frozen purple hull peas
  • 1/2 cup diced ham or 1 small ham bone, optional
  • 1 jalapeno
  • water, to cover
  • salt, 1 teaspoon

These peas are one of the few peas that I think taste perfect on their own, no meat seasoning needed.  Actually, I find it just gets in the way and I do not use any ham in my peas, but you may prefer it this way.

Place the peas in a large saucepan, lay the whole jalapeno (do not slice or dice!) on top and cover with cold water by two inches.  Bring to a simmer on stove, and simmer for one to two hours.  Add water as needed.  The purple hull pea water will turn, well, purple.  Also, it will kind of jelly-up when cold.   Nearing the end, taste for seasoning, and add salt as needed.

Stoneground Cornbread

  • 2 cups coarse, stoneground cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • butter or oil for oiling baking dish

Combine the first 5 ingredients well in a large bowl. Let set 30 minutes to soften meal.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place a large iron skillet in the oven to heat.
Meanwhile, whisk into the meal mixture the baking powder, soda and then the eggs. Batter should pour easily, if not, add more buttermilk or creamed corn. Add the oil to the hot iron skillet, pour the batter in and bake until the bread is golden brown, about 20 minutes, and springs back when touched. Slice in sections, cut open and add plenty of butter.