My Grandma’s Blackeyed Peas: Ancestral Lessons Learned from Beyond the Grave

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Disclaimer

**This story can be triggering for survivors of domestic abuse. I am not a professional counselor, this is my real story, real feelings and real healing. Read in love, peace and healing connection. With love and light, Afrikana Stories

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“You don’t believe fat meat is greasy.”

My Grandmother, the Matriarch of our family RIP

Back in da Day

One of my favorite childhood memories is my grandma’s pot of blackeyed peas! I grew up in a very small town in Mississippi. The typical poverty-stricken environment, everybody just trying to survive with what they have in their hand.

But when I think back on those days when money was almost nonexistent and broke was not even a joke, I remember my Grandma’s blackeyed peas. Back in those days, blackeyed peas were the most inexpensive, yet fulfilling meal you can get! 

You could get a family size bag for less than $1.00 and that one bag can feed a family of 4 (give or take). So we ate a lot of peas, rice, cabbage and chicken growing up because these were the cheapest foods available. Not to mention, we were limited in our selections based on our skin color. But that’s another story for another day (segregation from the white population was popular in my days growing up).

Let’s not talk about the price of chicken TODAY! Sickening… you have to take out a loan these days just for a pot of chittlins’ (joke from my beloved Pops during Thanksgiving dinner prep time LOL – I told him I would use it).

I digress… back in the day

Sure, we didn’t have much money, but we had good food. Peach cobbler, collard greens with smoked neckbones, any and every type of bean ever grown…. We ate very well in my family! 

And it was food that brought us together. Food that was cooked with love. I know that now at age 47, but as a kid, all I knew was that I had to have another bowl of those delicious peas! 

My Grandma’s peas stole the show at every dinner or potluck. And for years, even after her passing, I had been trying to learn the secret! Well, can I tell you now, that I’ve mastered my Grandma’s blackeyed peas??? 

And she showed me how 🙂 Don’t get spooked, what I’m about to tell you is my true story and I got pictures to show it!

History of the Pea

Blackeyed peas have been around for centuries! Don’t quote me on this, but I bet it was these peas that Rachel cooked for her husband that tricked him and made him to sign over the birthright to the chosen kid. Another story for another day 🙂 But if you know your bible stories… you know that food played a part in warming a man’s heart (and wallet). Since forever.

But back to the history of this delectable pea… it’s known by many names in different cultures. And cooked in many different ways – which shows the versatility of this amazing bean.

It originated in West Africa (follow me here) where my ancestors were taken and enslaved in the Americas. My Grandma continued a tradition from our ancestral generations, probably unknowingly to her at the time.

Research reveals this pea made its way to the Americas by our ancestors: “It was grown in Virginia since the 17th century by African slaves who were brought to America along with the indigenous plants from their homelands.”

Popular Names: purple hull peas, cowpea, hoppin john, or field peas — just to name a few.

Nutrients: One 100 g serving of cooked black-eyed peas contains 484 kilojoules (116 kilocalories) of food energy and is an excellent source of folate and a good source of thiamine, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc.

The legume is also a good source of dietary fiber (6.5 g per 100 g serving) and contains a moderate amount of numerous other vitamins and minerals.

In other words, yum yum yum! Good to me and for me 🙂 You can’t lose with the peas.

But what I remember about blackeyed peas is that black families in the south in particular only ate them during New Year’s as a sign of good luck and fortune. Blackeyed peas were always a sign of wealth, money, dollar dollar bill y’all. 

That’s what I remember being told about them, so even though they were so cheap to buy and easy to feed a family of 8, as a tradition and even superstition, we only ate them during the New Year. 

Can you imagine? Only hoping for good luck once a year????

Today, I make a pot just about every week! And my good fortune has been just fine 🙂

A Family Memoir

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My First Time

Sorry fellas, this ain’t about what you think! 🙂 This is about my first time making a pot of these delectable peas.

Okay, so my mother may frown a little, but it’s the truth… I didn’t drink coffee until I was 21 years old, because my mother, and all of the adults around me while growing up, told me that kids who drink coffee have a “hard head”. 

In simple terms, that meant the kid would turn out to be a menace to society, breaking laws, robbing banks, you name  it. In and out of jail, teenage pregnancy, school dropouts… kids who drink coffee (note the tiny hint of sarcasm).

However my mother put it, she scared me straight and I didn’t drink my first cup of coffee until I was grown, by state law and by my family rule, that was 21. 

So I waited, even though I moved out of my mom’s home at 17 to join the military – I was making my own money, had my own home and life –  I did not touch coffee until my 21st birthday!

Imagine the “I’ve arrived” belt I put on when I was able to drink coffee without the guilt of turning out to be a bad person 🙂 The next goal was to cook like my Grandma! 

Before she passed and I was in my mid-20’s, I called her up for Thanksgiving. I needed her recipe for the ENTIRE Thanksgiving dinner. It was my first one, I was a single mom, but I was determined to cook the whole spread.

So I called her and she sat on the phone with me for I don’t know how long and she explained all of her famous Thanksgiving dinner dishes. I took notes on some random reused notepaper that I still have to this day. I keep it safe in a cookbook that’s stored away somewhere 🙂 Minnie’s sweet potato pie should be it’s own cookbook, but I digress (storytellers always do).

But I still have her notes written down. Well, if you must know, everything turned out PERFECTLY… except the blackeyed peas. Whommp! Whommp! Whommp! 😔😔😔 

Fast forward 20+ years, my Grandma has transitioned and now she’s my ancestor. My guide. My comforter. My heart and joy. She’s constantly in my ear, and I can hear her while I’m cooking. She calls me “daughter” but she says it so lovingly.

One day, I was craving blackeyed peas. Here in Ghana, where I currently reside, I can get a large bag for about $1.50 USD. Shamefully, this bag can feed a family of 4 but it only lasts about 3 days in my house of one. No judgement, I call it “a phase” :).

Anyway, one day, I was craving this pot and I could hear my Grandma say, get “this and this and this and that” — telling me which items to buy from the market. 

I ordered the ingredients to be delivered to my doorstep, set up the slow cooker station and began to make… for the first time in over a decade… my Grandma’s blackeyed peas.

Here’s the thing: I LOVE slow cooked meals!!! I love how the food warms the home and it smells good all day long. I love the process of turning something plain into a magnificent succulent meal that everyone can enjoy together.

My Grandma measured NOTHING! She would say, a dash here or a pinch there. Just a little. Use your nose, your nose will tell you if you need salt or seasoning. 

In my 20’s and learning how to cook, I didn’t understand this, but today, I tell you a truth: if you cook with your heart, every thing you make will be scrumptious (and healing to those who eat it). 

Love is the key ingredient. It always has been, and it always will.

So, without further ado, I want to share with you my very own special pot of blackeyed peas… they DO carry a weight of good fortune, because when you cook with love, you cannot miss the blessings that come back to you. 

I am a living witness – but I’ll have to share those blessings in another blog. This one is getting too long for my britches 🙂 and vertigo 🙁

How to Make My Grandma’s Blackeyed Peas 

Cooking equipment:

  • Slow cooker

**if you want the recipe on how to cook it stovetop, leave a comment! 

Ingredients:

  • 1 large bag Blackeyed peas
  • 1 large or 2 medium sized onions
  • 3-4 small cloves of garlic
  • 1 large green bell pepper
  • 2-3 small fresh jalapeños (or your favorite hot peppers) **level of heat to your liking)
  • 1-2 small to medium sized tomatoes
  • 3-4 strips of bacon or meat of your choice (optional)
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 2 cubes of chicken seasoning
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • 1-2 tablespoons of mixed herbs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Enough water to cover peas

Now the process matters if you want the peas to turn out amazing! It’s a slow and enduring process of love and acceptance – accept the fact you’ll be in the kitchen all day 🙂 or at least 4 hours.

Anyhow, here’s the cooking directions using a slow cooker.

How to Cook Blackeyed Peas in a Slow Cooker

Cooking Time: 4 hours on high or 6 hours on low

Step 1: Develop the Flavor Base

**hint, now is a good time to soak your peas. These days you don’t have to soak overnight just 1-2 hours will do, but if you’re cooking in the slow cooker, it’s even better! In terms of less gas – peas can give you gas but this method will decrease the effects of it. Trust me! I’m menopausal so I can’t do the gas thing. This is a surefire method of enjoying your peas without consequence! To add a layer of healing, soak your clean peas in bay leaves and whole garlic cloves for at least an hour :)**

With meat – turn your slow cooker on high, with one tablespoon of oil, add the meat. Let it cook for one hour. Yep, I said one full hour.

Without meat – add your veggies and one cube of chicken seasoning with one tablespoon of oil, and cook for one hour on high heat. Yep, still one whole hour.

Step 2: Layer the Flavor

With meat – add your veggies and cube of chicken seasoning. Stir until everything is covered in that nicely flavored oil. Cook for another hour. (Hour #2)

Without meat – it’s time for the peas.. skip to step 3.

Step 3: Add the soaked peas

With or without meat – drain the peas then add to the slow cooker. Add cumin, mixed herbs, another cube of chicken seasoning, and water to cover the peas. Stir to combine, cover and walk away for another hour.

At this point, you want to stir the peas every hour. Noticing the liquid around the peas. Making sure that the water doesn’t run out and the peas are fully cooked. 

This is also the point, if you want to switch to cooking it on low for 5-6 hours, turn the dial now. Otherwise, you can still cook it on high, but watch it carefully every hour.

After 2 hours of cooking, squeeze one the peas to test the cooking status. If it mushes quickly between two fingers, it’s done so test the water for thickness. 

If it’s a little hard still, keep stirring and keep slowing cooking, paying attention to the thickness. 

Tip: The stirring process is important to create the “liquor”, that’s what my grandmother called it. Basically, it thickens the soup. So if your peas are cooking too quickly but the soup is still thin, mash up a handful of those cooked peas and allow them to thicken the soup too 🙂 Gives the soup a nice texture.

Step 4: Finishing Up – The secret ingredient

After about 3-4 hours on high, 5-6 hours on low, your pot of peas should be ready to consume!

Here’s my favorite part… in the last hour of the cooking process, I switch the slow cooker to “Warm” and add freshly diced tomatoes! OMG… my grandmother LOVED tomatoes.. she even had a tomato garden. So adding the tomatoes at the end keeps the texture of those nice sweet tomatoes and adds a fresh flavor at the end of each bite!

So here you go.. my grandmother’s pot of blackeyed peas! A pot of heart and healing, and when I’m having a moment and need some comfort, I turn to this meal. The process of cooking and knowing that I have a gift waiting for me at the end, is all I need to turn my frown upside down on any given day (and it’s affordable!). #winning

Not to brag, but I am, this book was written by my sister, Katrina Marie, a brand new author who hit the scene in 2023. Her faith story is one to inspire, uplift and empower you towards your own faith journey. The lessons learned from my sister’s story will inspire you to “never give up”.

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