Peas, Peeps and Pigs
My southern grandparents grew peas in their hot, lean soil of northwestern Alabama. I’m talking about field peas, cow peas, purple hull peas, and others. We spent a week or two with them every summer in the hottest part of July when those peas were coming on fast. The men would go out early and pick buckets of peas and set them in the shade on the front porch. Shelling peas on that porch was a regular summer activity for us, and other family members would come help and visit while we worked. Those peas became a side dish with many meals. They had other crops like okra and collards, but I can’t really remember much else coming from their garden because we were only there a short time each summer. I do remember watching my MawMaw cook and it was so different from anything I’d seen. She didn’t measure anything. Her method was to add what she wanted and taste it as she went. We always ate like royalty when we visited and it tickled her to see us enjoy her cooking so much.
They also kept a hog or two, chickens, and the occasional turkey. Nothing at their place went to waste. There was always a bucket to toss food scraps or vegetable trimmings into for the animals. I can remember carrying a bucket to feed the hog but it was too heavy for me to get over the top of the fence, and that hog was anxious for the treats! My PawPaw lifted the bucket up and helped me tip it into the pen before that hog decided to test the fence. The chickens were not too fond of me trying to collect their eggs, so I waited while PawPaw gathered them and then I carried the basket to the house. And the turkeys? Let’s just say that they sounded pretty unhappy all the time, so I kept a good distance between me and that turkey coop.
It took me a while to figure out how they made homemade sausage patties. It was the same reason that they got a piglet or two each spring. In those days of my youth, I could eat sausage without my stomach objecting. And, those sausages were so spicy and delicious! One year for my birthday, they shipped me a quart of sausage patties and I felt like a lottery winner. Remember this was during a time when getting a brown paper-wrapped box delivered was a big treat – unlike today when we get packages so frequently.
Although my grandparents were very different, had different garden styles and methods, one thing was the the same. They grew much of their own food, and often shared it with those who didn’t have as much. They also used everything that they had on hand to make sure nothing was wasted. My PawPaw and MawMaw fed their animals with things that others would have put in the garbage while Grandma and Grandpa composted much of their trimmings. Both sets of grandparents knew how to preserve their food either by canning, freezing or drying their harvests. It was normal for me to see shelves filled with preserved food at their homes and in our basement, too.