South Carolina field peas

This New Year’s Day I learned two very important facts about my lineage: 

  1. My great-great uncle went to FEDERAL prison for making moonshine. I’ve known for a while that his illicit corn liquor distillery led to several jailhouse stays, but I had no idea he served time in federal prison. This leads me to believe he was probably a pretty successful businessman, well as successful as one could be getting people drunk off of 200 proof liquor.  Now I know from whence I get my entrepreneurial drive!
  2. My great-grandmother once threatened a woman with an ax. Said woman was after her man and my great-grandmother was not about to have that. Yes sir! She shut that down with the quickness. This sounds just like her, so feisty and not one for taking any mess. Sooooo, to any potential suitors and wannabe side chicks, consider yourselves duly warned. That very same blood runs through me.  An ax – you don’t even want to go there. 

These eye-opening facts were shared over a table full with peas and rice, greens, cornbread, and fish–the family tradition. A tradition I wasn’t sure would continue this year, as this was the first New Year’s Day without my grandmother and dinner was always at her house. But we pulled together and moved the celebration to my aunt’s home, securing our 2014 luck with plates of field peas!

Lowcountry red field peas


Red field peas are a South Carolina Lowcountry staple. Sure, black eyed peas are good and they appear in many a Southern-themed dish, but trust me they don’t compare to field peas, which are tastier, heartier, and produce a far superior aroma while cooking. Growing up, I had the pleasure of enjoying field peas every New Year’s Day and any other day my grandmother or great-grandmother felt like cooking up a pot of peas and rice. Their versions always included salted pork, but I simmer mine with smoked turkey and the flavor is still spot on.

So many of my family’s traditions are centered around the dinner table. You may come to the table hungry, tired and sad, but as this New Year’s Day proved, there’s nothing a plate of field peas and the recounting of some unorthodox family tales can’t remedy. 

South Carolina Field Peas
Serves 12
South Carolina field peas...a Lowcountry staple
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Prep Time
8 hr
Cook Time
4 hr
Prep Time
8 hr
Cook Time
4 hr
  1. 1 pound red field peas or red cow peas
  2. 6 cups of water (for soaking)
  3. 4 cups of water (for cooking)
  4. 1 smoked turkey leg or wing (about 3/4 lb.)
  5. 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
  6. Salt (I use sea salt)
  7. Pepper
  8. Hot cooked rice
  1. Carefully pick through your peas and remove any rocks, gravel, dirt or other foreign particles.
  2. Rinse the peas with cold water and then place in a large bowl. Add the 6 cups of water, cover, and soak 8 hours or overnight.
  3. The next day, skim the surface and remove any misshapen peas that may have floated to the top. Rinse the peas once more.
  4. Add the smoked turkey leg or wing to a large stock pot. Add about 2 cups of water, cover, and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes.
  5. Add the peas and remaining 2 cups of water to the stock pot. Season with the Cajun seasoning, salt and black pepper. Raise the heat slightly and bring the mixture to a boil.
  6. Then lower the heat and simmer the peas for about 1 hour.
  7. After 1 hour, taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as necessary.
  8. Continue cooking the peas over low heat for another 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally.
  9. The simmering peas will develop a nice starchy gravy while cooking. You can add more water if you would like a thinner sauce.
  10. Serve with hot cooked rice.
  1. You can remove the smoked turkey leg or wing from the pot halfway through the cooking process if you like.
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