Field peas of different varieties are a staple of a southern kitchen, and my personal favorite, as well as most of my family, are purple hull peas. Mississippi pink eye purple hulls, to be exact. (You can see pictures of some of them growing on my other blog on the on the post I did last week about my parent's garden.)
It's wonderful to eat fresh vegetables in season, especially home-grown, but part of the fun of having a garden is to be able to "put up" some to eat later. Preserving food is, to me, both an art and a science, and no one wants to waste time or money "putting up" food that doesn't taste good, or heaven forbid, goes bad. Canning, freezing, drying, pickling and preserving, there are a myriad of ways to do it, and some foods just take better (and taste better) if they're done a certain way, and purple hull peas, in my opinion, are one of them, and the way that they taste best is frozen--IF--and that's a big "if"--they're done the right way!
And what is the "right" way of freezing purple hull peas? I'm about to show you the secret.
And what is the secret?
Blanching and shocking.
And I'm about to show you how!
This is a dishpan full of peas, peas, glorious peas. I love running my hands through a pan full of freshly shelled peas. I don't even know how to tell you how they feel, cool and just slightly moist to the touch; I feel like Midas counting my gold when I play with peas. (Yes, my momma told me not to play with my food, but this is fun!).
This dishpan full was from about a bushel and half of unshelled peas, or about 13 1/2 pounds (General speaking, purple hulls weigh out at 9 pounds a bushel, unshelled.)
Although my parents wash the peas in the shell twice before they go through the sheller, the first step is always to wash them twice again.
My mom has her techniques down to a routine--fill one dishpan with water, then swish around and lift them into a second pan...
...she gets a rhythm going, of swish and plop...
And when she finishes the first washing...
...she adds water and does it all over again...
....to still another dishpan.
Swishing and plopping (they're my own technical terms)...
...until we have another dishpan full of lovely washed peas. (not fun to handle after they're wet)
Then she drains the water from the dishpans....
...and this is secret number one--try to one of these little strainers, or you will fill you drain up with all of the little goopy things that come off the inside of the shells.
(And you will need your sink to be fully functional, this is a sink-intensive task)
Secret number two--use a blanching pot, which is large (think soup-size) pot with an insert like the one above, which makes putting the peas or other vegetables in and out of the boiling water much easier.
(You don't have to have one of these, but trust me, it's much easier if you do.)
Secret number three--don't fill the pot full, you need to leave room for the water to boil, with vegetables in it, without overflowing.
Secret number four--it's much easier if you have two blanching pots, or at least two inserts, so you can speed up the blanching time by having one in the pot, and one ready to go when the first one gets ready.
Secret number five--don't over fill the blanching pot insert (see secret number three)
Secret number five--while you're waiting for the water to boil, pre-mark your freezer bags with the date so that next year you'll know how long things have been in your freezer. If you freeze mystery food, you may want to include what's being frozen, but peas are pretty much self-evident. (My parents use a code instead of the date. They're mysterious like that.)
Secret number six--use a good quality freezer bag, not a storage bag, to put things into the freezer. Don't waste your time and money, not to mention your good produce, by using cheap bags that aren't made for long-term storage.
And now--step one--once the water comes to a boil, put the peas (or whatever vegetable you're putting up) into the water, and bring back to a boil. Stir a little to make sure the boiling water is coming into contact with all of the food being blanched.
Guess what? You're blanching!
Skim off the foam and stuff that floats to the top.
And now for the tricky part--each different vegetable blanches differently. Small things, like peas, take less time than something big, like and ear of corn.
We did these about 3-4 minutes after the water was boiling again. My mother is magic, she just knows when it's been long enough.
(Actually, she's done this so long, she goes by the look of the peas when they're about done.)
Now you're ready to shock the peas---no, no, you don't have to tell them your deepest, darkest secrets, you just have to cool them off rapidly, to stop the cooking process. This is done with water and a lot of ice.
And on to secret number seven--it takes a lot of ice. A lot. Your ice maker cubed ice is not enough. Some people buy bags of ice, but don't waste your money--little pieces of ice melt too fast, you need big ice, so make ice ahead of time in recycled plastic bowls. (Don't use your good tupperware, most of them will spit after they've been frozen a few times--once these split, we send them to plastic heaven and get more out of our saved-all-year-for-this-purpose-stash)
Fill one side of the sink with water, and throw in some cool-whip-bowl ice.
Take the insert and rinse it with cool water from the tap, swishing around to cool off the pot...
(rinsing it first in tap water cools off the pot and keeps it from melting the ice too fast)
Put it over in the ice water side and continue to rinse until the vegetables are cool.
(Not, you are shocking (noun) as in you are a shocking person--you are shocking (verb), as in you are blanching and shocking to put vegetables into the freezer!)
Next step--bag them up!
A hundred years ago when all of us kids were at home, we used to make what we called "fat quarts"--as much as we could fit in the bad and it close properly--now mom and dad make "skinny quarts" so they don't have to eat peas for a week at a time--although peas are even better when they're left over and heated up, but even the best thing gets old after a while.
We make a game of it--when the peas are still in the dishpan, we all take turns guessing how many bags we'll end up with--and this time, we had 11 quarts (some fat, some skinny) which I got to take home to my house and put in my freezer! (One last secret--spread the bags out in your freezer in a single layer, if possible, until they're well frozen, and then stack them, that way you know everything is frozen in a timely manner)
Note: I know of some people who cook their peas completely before freezing or canning, and that works, but you miss that just-cooked-fresh-from-the-garden taste that you get from doing it this way. I've also heard of people who just shell their peas and freeze them in big bags without the whole blanching and shocking process, but we don't like the way they taste or keep that way.
If you want to see the process I use to cook peas that have been frozen like this, you can my Pass the Peas, Please post.
So now you know the Secrets of this Southern Kitchen when it comes to "putting up" peas--and many thanks to my mom and dad for letting me take picture of the process. (My mother has threatened me if I show her face--one of these days I'm going to sneak one in!) This was just the first picking, and a small one at that--my folks have already put up over 70 quarts of green beans alone, there's no telling how many quarts of peas will come from their garden this year. So needless to say, I trust their experience and their expertise.
Until next time, good cooking, and good eating!
This post is linked to:
See Ya in the Gumbo at Ms enPlace
Meatless Monday at My Sweet and Savory
Make Your Home Sing Monday at Mom's the Word
Metamorphosis Monday at Between Naps on the Porch
Tuesday Garden Party at An Oregon Cottage
Teach Me Tuesday at Growing Home Blog
Works for Me Wednesday at We Are THAT Family
Wow us Wednesday at Family Home and Life
Homemaking Party at Hope in Every Season