Field peas include several different types of peas that grow during the hot weather of summer unlike the cool weather spring garden peas. Some other names used for field peas include, lady peas, southern peas, and cowpeas. The more common types of field peas include, black eyed peas, crowders, pink eyed purple hulls, cream peas, zipper peas, butter peas, and lady cream peas.
All of these grow on short bushy, slightly vining plants, that produce handfuls of long slender pods filled with a dozen or more of the tender tasty peas. Field peas are picked when the peas inside are well filled out and full size but the shell is still tender and will easily pop open to remove the peas. Immature pods can be used for snaps. Some varieties will change the color of the shells when they are mature such as pink eyed purple hulls that turn from green to pink and purple when ready to pick. These will also stain the fingers during shelling with their purple coloring. Each pea type has its own unique flavor with black eyed peas having a strong earthy flavor, pink eyes are similar but less strong, cream peas and zipper peas have a sweeter creamy texture, and butter peas are reminiscent of butter beans.
The peas should be shelled as soon after being picked as possible to retain as much of their flavor and nutrient value as possible. If buying unshelled peas at a farmer's market, look for firm, unblemished pods, that are not limp or slimy. The peas inside should be tender yet well filled out, though a few immature ones are ok as they can be snapped. Each bushel of unshelled well filled out pods should yield around three gallons of shelled peas. Don't buy more than can be shelled and frozen in a day and if traveling far, be sure they are kept in a cool place.
To freeze field peas the following supplies will be needed: a large enough pot to hold the peas along with enough water to cover them to a depth of 3 inches, a colander for draining the hot peas, another large pot for a cooling water bath, freezer bags or plastic containers, a large slotted ladling spoon, and some ice. How much ice is needed will depend on how many batches of peas are going to be put up. It is best to not work with more than a couple of quarts at a time and the cooling water will be changed out with each batch. Figure out how many batches will be done to get an idea of how much ice will be needed. I keep frozen half gallon jugs of ice in my freezer and one jug will last through around 8 quarts of peas. The peas need to be frozen right after blanching them so be sure that there is room in the freezer for them.
Shell the peas and wash them well to remove all traces of dirt and trash and pick out any discolored or blemished peas. Snap any immature pods by breaking them into one inch pieces. Fill the cooking pot with enough water to cover the peas to a depth of 3 inches and bring it to a full boil. Get the cold water bath ready and float the ice in it. Some methods call for placing the peas in a colander or in cheesecloth drawn up like a bag around them to boil them, but I find it easier to just place them in the boiling water. The water will stop boiling when the peas are added and then they will start floating on the surface and a bubbly foam will form on the surface. Do not stir the peas and watch for the bubbles in the foam to start breaking down. This means the water is starting to boil again. When it does, start timing the peas and boil them for just three minutes. This boiling is necessary to stop the enzymes that are found naturally in the peas, from affecting their taste and making them spoil.
Pour the peas, hot water and all, through the colander which should be in a clean sink. Run cold water over the peas and then quickly pour them into the cold water bath. Stir the peas so the cold water will cool the peas quickly and stop the cooking process or they will turn mushy. Let them cool for a couple of minutes and then spoon them into the plastic freezer containers or bags. During those few minutes fill the cooking pot with more water and start it to boiling for the next batch. Pour the used cooling water out and fill that pot with more cold water.
It is important to remove as much water and air from the containers as possible before sealing them and freezing. Use a stiff sided plastic container to hold the plastic freezer bags upright while filling them. Plastic freezer bags with zipper type closures work well for freezing vegetables because they can be laid out flat to freeze which helps them to freeze faster. Fill the container and tilt to drain off the excess water, close and seal, removing as much air as possible. Place the filled containers in the freezer and start on the next batch.
To cook the frozen field peas, they do not have to be thawed out, just put them in some boiling water and cook until tender, around 30 minutes to an hour. Add salt and pepper to taste and flavor with some bacon grease, pieces of boiled bacon or ham, or a good old ham bone. I like to place some pieces of okra with the stem ends and tips cut off, on top of the peas during the last 20 minutes or so of cooking and to serve them with nice skillet full of hot cornbread.