Long ago and far away in one of the grimier neighborhoods of New Haven, Connecticut there was a food co-op, the New Haven Food Co-op. This was a true co-op, a hippy-dippy affair with meetings and volunteerism and guys with lots of hair. When I moved into the ‘hood, in aid of putting hubby through the Yale Drama School, we joined. One of the benefits of shopping there was that some zealous members created leaflets with recipes for cheap but hearty fare, all themed. These were given away free at the check-out counter. One leaflet gave classic recipes for beans.
That’s how I discovered black-eyed peas, and this recipe, somewhat modified over the years, but recognizable to its original author if s/he lives.
I much prefer fresh black-eyed peas to dried and reconstituted. The fresh ones are much finer and creamier in texture, and never grainy. You can also taste some faint yet distinctly flavorful and complex sugars in the fresh peas, sugars that go stale when the peas are dried.
Be aware that ham hocks are all hat and no cattle. You get maybe two tablespoons’ worth of meat for each ham hock. Anyway the tasty goodies are mostly in the hide, bone, and fat, which you will discard after their long stewing.
Fresh Cubano peppers have a bright green-pepper flavor, a little spicy. Guajillos are dried marisol chiles, very common in Mexico. I get mine at my local supermercado. Guajillos have a rounder, subtler taste, with a sneak-up-on-you red-pepper heat.
Place in a crock pot and bring to a boil, then cook on low for two to three hours (if using fresh peas – double that time for dried) the following ingredients:
One or two ham hocks per person
8 oz fresh black-eyed peas, washed, per person
8 oz water per person
2 T sugar
2 large fresh Cubano peppers, halved and seeded
1 whole guajillo pepper, seeded (do not chop or peel)
½ t salt or less, to taste – ham hocks are usually salty
When the ham hocks are disintegrating, remove them carefully with a slotted spoon. Allow them to cool so you don’t burn your fingers. Sort out the meat from the bones, fat, and skin. Shred the meat and return it to the soup.
At the same time, remove the Cubano pepper halves and discard them. If you use a guajillo pepper, remove it carefully so that the skin doesn’t tear. Scrape the thin layer of red smoosh from the clear, plasticky skin and return the smoosh to the pot. Discard the plasticky skin.
Discard the ham hock bones, fat, and skin, unless you think you’ll like the skin minced up fine and returned to the soup. It’s pretty fatty. I put mine out in the crow feeder. Crows love ham hock leavings in the dead of winter.
Serve hot with a big dollop of sour cream on top, and a big slab of corn bread. Nothing’s more comforting on a snowy day than a spoonful of hot black-eyed peas with hock meat and a bit of fresh hot sweet corn bread dissolving in it.
The hero of Anything for the Picture, a Texan, would have grown up on this Southern staple, only his mother would probably have added much hotter peppers.