Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Shellin' and Snappin': A Summer Meal

Lately I’ve been feeling like a little fish in a big sea. There are SO many food bloggers out there and SO many great sites. I’m like an infant in “blogland,” yet I want to be a grown-up. I want beautiful photos, slick design, engaging copy, inspiring recipes, lots of subscribers and recognition for my work. But, of course, I’ve only been doing this for six months and it is not my full-time job. I need to be patient and there is a lot I need to learn. I also need to find my voice and figure out who I am as a writer and blogger. What got me started writing this blog is a curiosity about black-eyed peas and Southern tradition – and here I am again writing about peas. For me, this is really an online journal – where I am, what I’m eating, what I’m thinking about and the recognizing the many people, places and traditions that have made me who I am today. I’m working on my photography, but for now I will post my crappy photos and hope you forgive me. :)

When I received a big “mess” (that’s the Southern word for a bunch) of Dixie Lee field peas in my CSA box, I was a bit taken a back. At first I thought they were really long green beans – it had been so long since I had encountered a field pea in its shell. Handling them took me back to hot summer days sitting on my grandmothers’ screened-in porches with several bowls and buckets before us: one for the whole peas, one for the shelled peas and one for the scraps. With my series of bowls, I sat on the couch and shelled while my three-year-old “helped” but stirring the peas with a whisk. He was fascinated with the process – “what do you do with the crusts?” he asked – referring to the shells. He smelled the peas and sampled them raw. I shelled for what seemed like forever, boiled the peas with a little onion, chicken broth and water and this is all I got:

Peas - Can't do much to make these suckers pretty!

Was it worth it? Yes! For the connection I felt with my grandmothers – one who is gone and one who is still here but whose mind is slipping away. And for the connection I felt with my son who will hopefully one day have fond memories of shelling peas with his mama.

A few days later, I had a “mess” of green beans. My almost six-year-old son was my helpmate this time. Again, I recall hot summer days in the garden dodging yellow jackets picking green and filling our buckets with white half runners – the green bean variety of choice in both my grandparents’ gardens. We would then sit on the screen porch stringing and snapping. Sometimes, Granny would be working the peas and Mama and I would be stringing the green beans. It was an operation. The green beans were so abundant that there would always be plenty for canning. I remember standing in steamy kitchen filling Mason jars with hot green beans. What a treat to pull those green beans out in the middle of the winter and enjoy the summer’s bounty!

I can’t say that my son really “got” how to properly string the green beans, and it would have been a whole lot easier to do it myself, but watching him enjoy it and feel like he was contributing to the family meal was worth the extra strings. I have a hard time getting him to eat his vegetables, but last night, he ate every bit of the green beans he helped to prepare. I had never thought of it before, but I’m sure my mother quietly forgave the extra strings and stems that made it into our green beans due to my efforts. And for that, I’m grateful. Whether sitting on the porch or in front of the TV watching “stories” with our hands in beans, it was the camaraderie that really mattered – not the imperfect pieces that came from a child’s hands.

And here I am with my imperfect blog, feeling like a child again trying to emulate the grown-ups. We all have to start somewhere! For me, it’s at the dinner table with my family. And here’s what we had for dinner.

The only thing missing -- a tall glass of sweet tea.

Turkey Meatloaf - Based on this recipe:

Note: I used plain spaghetti sauce (no extra stuff in it) on the top and I cut back the oatmeal a bit and added a little bread crumbs. I probably cut back on the onion, too.

Mashed Potatoes – I never follow a recipe for these. I just cook some potatoes, drain the water and mash with a little butter, cheese, sour cream (in this case I used fat-free Greek yogurt which I wouldn’t really recommend because it gave them more of a tartness than I would have liked) and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Green Beans – Simply cooked in water, a little chicken broth, a little vegetable oil and lots of salt. If you want to be old-school, cook with a little fatback or bacon!

Field Peas – Cooked to death (the Southern way) with chicken broth, onion, salt, pepper. Again, use bacon or fatback for even more deliciousness if that’s your thing.

Tomato – For some reason, Southerners like to eat a wedge of tomato with everything in the summer. Maybe because there is always an abundance of tomatoes sitting around? I don’t know, but you have to have a little tomato to go with your peas and green beans. It’s especially good with creamed corn and fried okra!

So, I hope my post brings back food memories for you or encourages you to do some shellin’ and snappin’ of your own. Also, I’m on the search for the best squash casserole ever. I have some squash I need to do something with and am thinking of giving squash casserole another try. I’ve never been a fan, but maybe I’ve just never met the right casserole! If you have the recipe to end all recipes and don’t mind sharing it, I’d love to make it and give you a shout out here. If you’re a blogger, I’ll definitely provide a link and promote it on Facebook and Twitter. Stay tuned for more Southern veggies soon – ‘tis the season!


  1. I've been pulling loads of green beans out of our garden, and snapping and blanching them to freeze (it's too hot to can right now). Brings back so many memories of sitting on the front porch with my grandmother, rocking and stringing and snapping.

    Also, as to being a little fish in a big pond, I'm right there with you. Even after a year and half of blogging, I'm still feeling like a rank amateur in a lot of ways. But, I still love doing it, so I'll keep on keepin' on.

    As for squash casserole, I've never been a fan either, but I made a squash and potato gratin with goat cheese the other day that was mighty tasty. Here's the link: http://www.thekitchn.com/thekitchn/main-dish/recipe-potato-squash-and-goat-cheese-gratin-090647

  2. Lovely post! Stick with the blogging, you are doing just wonderfully.

  3. Great post! Well done! I'm following.

  4. Hi Rachael! I'm stumbled (gracefully, of course) upon your blog via Southern Food Network. I'm a Southern food writer, too! I would welcome you to the blogosphere but you've got one month's seniority over me! This is a great post. I have some suggestions for your squash that's not a casserole. Have you ever roasted them with onions? That's my favorite! Please stop by for a visit. On Facebook, you can find me at www.facebook.com/syrupandbiscuits. Or my blog is http://syrupandbiscuits.wordpress.com. I hope to see you soon!

  5. Thanks, all! I love and appreciate the encouragement. I've been following all of your sites and love what you do! @Life in Recipes - Thanks for the squash idea. And, btw, you are a pro in my mind. You inspire me!@Syrupandbiscuits - Nice to meet you too!. I had no idea you were a newbie as well. I love your recipes and thanks for the squash suggestion.

  6. Have you tried using a polarizer to get rid of some of the glare? Or a diffuser if it's from a flash.

  7. Thanks, Jason. I have not. I need to take a crash course on photography. I think my camera kind of stinks, too. I'm looking into a good SLR.

  8. I have a Canon Elan 7 (film) I like. The lenses work with the DSLRs, too.

    One of the best places to buy camera equipment is B&H Photo: http://www.bhphoto.com/. Their prices are very good and shipping was fast.

    A Nikon would be just as good. I chose Canon over Nikon because of Canon's better customer service. That said, I chose Nikon over Canon scanners because Canon scanner use an obnoxious driver design so that you can't use their drivers in newer versions of Windows or OS X.