Sunday, January 6, 2013

"Vibration Cooking or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl" - Blackeyed Peas a la Santa Clara (for New Year's Day)

Date I made this recipe:  January 1, 2013

Vibration Cooking or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl by Vetamae Smart-Grosvenor
Published by:  Ballantine Books New York
© 1970, 1992
Recipe – Blackeyed Peas a la Santa Clara – p. 199

After a rather rough 2012, I am all about doing things that allegedly will bring me luck and so sure enough, I made blackeyed peas on New Year’s Day.  Legend has it that eating peas, particularly blackeyed peas on New Year’s Day brings luck.  This belief is particularly strong with southerners, especially African-American southerners.  I don’t think there are too many southern cookbooks on my shelf that don’t contain a recipe for black-eyed peas, also known as Hoppin’ John.

This recipe for Blackeyed Peas a la Santa Clara comes from the book, Vibration Cooking or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl by Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor.  Vertamae, an African American “Geechee Girl” – Geechee being another name for the Gullah people who hail from the Lowcountry region of South Carolina and Georgia – first published this cookbook in 1970.  Her book tells the story of her travels, her friends, her finds and even – and I love this part – poultices and home remedies to use to cure what ails you.

In 1992, Vertamae updated her highly successful book and in the introduction she talked about some of the people who influenced her in her life and how many of them had passed on.  One person she spoke of in particular is the famous African-American writer, James Baldwin.    Of his funeral, she said “His funeral was the best homegoing service, the most spectacular farewell I have ever witnessed or heard about…The funeral was so awesome.  I told my friends, ‘Listen up.  If you don’t think you can have a funeral like Jimmy’s keep your Black ass alive.’”

I almost fell off my chair laughing at that one.  After participating in a friend’s most awesome memorial service this year, I told my husband that except for a few changes here and there, this was exactly how I wanted my memorial to go.  Vertamae knows of what she speaks!

As to recipes, part of the thrill (horror?) of reading through older cookbooks is seeing recipes that tell the story of the person, a place or a philosophy about cooking.  For example, it is not atypical of a southern cookbook to include recipes for rabbit, squirrel, possum (um…no?) raccoon or even, in this case, Barbecued Gator Tails.  Right - gotta vote that one down, quite possibly because I don’t live in a gator-friendly climate…for a reason!  People made do with regional foods back then because they had to in order to feed their families while on a tight budget.  Many older cookbooks show also that once upon a time, home cooks used every part of an animal (again, it was more economical to do so) and so it was also not unusual to see recipes for brains or hooves or tripe (part of the stomach).  Now, the very thought of any of those items almost makes me gag and yet the joke is on me as all these things are now making a comeback in fancy restaurants across the country. In some countries like Italy, France and Spain, they never left the menu.  Oh well, to each his/her own.  I tend to like simple and the recipe I selected is about as simple as they come.

Blackeyed Peas a la Santa Clara is a “souped-up” version of your plain old black-eyed peas.  Over time, I have certainly seen my share of “souped-up” variations of this recipe (and by that I mean beyond simmering the beans in water), some adding more or different spices to the mix, some using a ham hock or salt pork to add flavor while others have gone whole hog and used everything but the kitchen sink.  In my household, we had a split vote:  Andy liked the recipe – a recipe that included coriander, oregano and red pepper - “as is” whereas I felt like I could have used even more spice and a few more vegetables to boot.  I also cooked a batch of rice to serve along with the beans and dumplings as some variations of Hoppin’ John also include rice.  It all depends on what you want out of the meal and the basic thing I wanted was to be the recipient of good fortune in 2013; anything after that was gravy!

Here then, is the very simple recipe for Black-Eyed Peas a La Santa Clara.  If y’all want to play with the ingredients, be my guest (I’m sure Vertamae won’t mind) but my blog rule is that I stick to the recipe no matter what.

Happy New Year and may good fortune come your way in 2013!

Black-Eyed Peas a la Santa Clara – serving size not given (but it uses a pound of beans)
1 pound black-eyed peas soaked overnight
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, mined
1 crushed dried hot red pepper (or red pepper flakes)
A touch of cumin (I used about 1 ½ teaspoons and could have used more)
A touch of oregano (I used about 1 ½ teaspoons and could have used more)
Salt (amount not given but be generous to add flavor)
1 cup flour
½ tablespoon baking powder
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/3 cup milk
¼ cup chopped cilantro (coriander)

Soak a pound of dried black-eyed peas overnight.  Discard the discolored ones.  Rinse, drain and set aside.

In a heavy pot, saut√© the onion, garlic, hot red pepper, then add the salt, cumin and oregano.  Then add the peas and water and cook until tender.  Ann’s Note:  this recipe didn’t say how long to cook before I achieved “tender” so I Googled “black-eyed peas” and cooked them for an hour.

In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, egg and milk.  Add about ¼ cup chopped cilantro (coriander).  Blend well and drop by rounded spoonful into the peas.  Cover and cook for another 15 minutes.

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