Guest column: Memories of field peas

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hap Alexander
Special to the Post
Some of my favorite childhood meals came from my Aunt Libby’s kitchen in Lumberton.
Usually there were two or three tables of aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, and my older sister, Anne. The kids had to sit together at a card table set up in the kitchen, and the grownups were in the dining room. Mother and Aunt Libby would spend hours cooking. While everyone was standing around waiting for the final touches before lunch, I would hang around in the kitchen to watch and learn, but mostly for the occasional handout.
The thing I remember most was the field peas ó cooking in a big pot with a big chunk of pork side meat. The liquid in the pot with the peas would turn brown. Right before everything was ready, Aunt Libby would add several okra to the peas but not stir them in. She would just lay them on top of the peas to steam and take them out to serve separately on a plate. I considered myself lucky if I got one of those okra from the pea pot, because very few of them made it to the table.
It’s funny what I remember about those trips to Lumberton along Highways 52 and 74. The anticipation of our arrival heightened as the red clay gradually changed to white sandy soil the closer we got, and the hardwood trees were replaced by tall pines.
I remember that Daddy would always honk the horn under the railroad bridge in Hamlet ó although I think he was not supposed to ó and the old steam engine was in the little glass house.
Once he stopped the car outside Pembroke to ask directions from a man, just so we could listen to him talk.
We knew the way, of course, because Mother was born and raised in the Sandhills. She just missed hearing their accent.
Sometimes we would vary our route so we could pass some landmark from her childhood. I remember The Dixie Dance Hall, Flora McDonald College, a skeleton hanging in the window of an old drugstore, the black water of the Lumber River and the church in Antioch where the McBryde Clan holds an annual reunion.
Pea juice
My family’s visits to Lumberton from Salisbury became fewer and farther between as I got older. Field peas were not a staple crop in Rowan County as they seemed to be in Roberson County, so my opportunities to enjoy them faded as time passed. They were not real big peas, but smaller than black-eyes as I remember them. I believe Aunt Libby picked them fresh. The most important part was the brown liquid in the pot with the peas. “Pea juice” we called it. I could never seem to get enough pea juice. It would run all over my plate, so much that I had to dam it up with a biscuit or slice of light bread to sop up every drop.
Mother and Aunt Libby have both passed on, taking with them the secret of their wonderful field peas. I am almost 60 now and dream of rediscovering field peas like they fixed at least once more in my lifetime. I would love to go back to Robeson County, sop some pea juice, and savor the beautiful way the folks talk there.
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Hap Alexander grew up in Salisbury and now lives in Topsail Beach.