This summer at a Charleston farmer’s market, the Blackeyed Pea Relish from the Great Food Co-op company caught my eye. After tasting a sample, I bought a jar just to snack on. No need to parcel out little bits to complement another dish when I could just cut to the chase and eat it out of the jar. The relish combines two quirky flavors I relish – sweet pickles and field peas. (The last sentence was actually unwittingly written at first but has intentionally remained)
The relish is somewhat similar to my traditional New Year’s Day Texas Caviar salad with a major difference. For the relish, all the ingredients are boiled until soft; with enough vinegar and sugar added for a sweet and sour pickled flavor. All the ingredients in the salad except the peas remain fresh and crisp before being marinated in an oil rich vinaigrette. (The peas always need to be cooked before eating)
In my Southern cookbooks, on food blogs and on the labels of prepared relishes I looked for relish flavor ideas. Most recipes include basic pickling combinations of vinegar, sugar, a range of spice mixtures and a variety of aromatic vegetables. Pickled field peas and field pea relish seem to be used interchangeably as a descriptive.
A classic recipe called Pickled Field Peas from The Runaway Spoon food blog, with step-by-step directions for processing pickled peas, offers an alternative recipe if canning is your goal. My nest is half empty so my relish is for eating immediately and not proportioned for putting up as they say in the South.
A sweet, sour, and spicy flavor combination always livens things up, so my version is sweet with a few more spices than most. Mustard in two forms and red pepper flakes offset all that sweetness. Earthy molasses adds a wisp of bbq sauce flavor. The idea comes from Atlanta Doux South company’s Little Rock Caviar, aka pickled black-eyed peas.
Black-eyed peas are usually mentioned by name in Southern recipes. I use pink-eyed peas because they currently seem to be the most popular kind of field peas at the Atlanta farmer’s markets. A recent article in the Charleston City Paper describes black-eyed peas as the Wonder Bread of field peas because they are more easily grown and canned than other varieties. This explains why locally grown, and often more flavorful, varieties of field peas are not typically available or called for in recipes.
There are lots of ingredients in this relish yet once they are assembled the recipe is super simple to make. If you can resist eating the relish by the spoonful, it tastes fantastic on anything fried.; think fried green tomatoes or catfish. The relish also makes a great condiment on hamburgers, veggie burgers or hot dogs as well as a yummy cracker or chip dip. If you find a stash of fresh field peas at the market, buy plenty so you can boil briefly, cool and freeze them until New Year’s Day. Then you can make this relish to add even more good luck and flavor to your Hoppin’ John.
Fresh Pink-eyed Pea Relish
1 ½ cup fresh pink-eyed peas or other available field pea variety. Rinse peas well, cover with 2” of water in a saucepan and bring to boil over high heat. Once mixture boils, reduce heat to medium high and cook for 20 minutes or until slightly soft yet still resisting a little when bitten into. Skim foam frequently. Drain before adding to recipe.
½ cup diced Vidalia onion, or other sweet onion variety
½ cup diced red pepper
¼ cup green diced pepper
¼ cup diced celery
1 small garlic clove, minced
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup sugar
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
2 tsp molasses
½ tsp worcestershire sauce
½ tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp dry mustard
¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground allspice
- Over high heat, bring all ingredients to a boil.
- Lower heat to low and simmer for an additional 20 minutes until the liquid is reduced and becomes slightly syrupy.
- Let cool and refrigerate. If you can hold yourself back, wait a day for the flavors to meld before eating.
- Refrigerate for up to a week.