Carolus Linnaeus was a great benefactor of mankind, who invented the system of binomial nomenclature of plants and animals. Now we know that Vigna unguiculata is not the same as green peas, though they share a common name. This particular pea was brought to the Americas by enslaved Africans, whose cultivation of it caught the eyes of the slaveholders. Cowpeas, as they are also known, were described by Thomas Jefferson in 1798 as a veg that “is very productive [and an] excellent food for man and beast.”
This is a simple veg to cook, though it is starchy and takes some time. Water, salt, and some good seasoning meat, are all that is needed. This particular variety is the most popular, though the other varieties of cowpeas are remarkably different in taste and texture. If you see any cowpea for sale, buy them in bulk and freeze them, as frozen cowpeas are almost as good as fresh ones.
If only I could make up things this good, Robert Ludlum would be out of the writing business.
Since this has to do with a distilled or cooked grain, and possibly a smoked herb, I find this story to be fair game for a food blog. That, and it is something of a classic Southern story of the inexplicable.
Culled from one of my favorite mags, The Atlantic, that has published such writers as Twain and Hemingway, this classic hails from 2011. A West Virginia college frat was hosting a party, when one of the mentally altered guests decided to go out on their deck and stick a bottle rocket in his anus. I actually could not determine which way he stuck it in there, business end or stick end, but enquiring minds want to know.
As this was at a college, naturally there was someone filming the whole thing with a phone. After the genius lit the fuse, the phone guy became so excited he fell off the deck, and found himself lodged between the wall of the building and the heat pump. Naturally, he sued BOTH the frat and the guy with the butt rocket, for damages. The case was settled out of court.
I have to leave the last words to Shakespeare: “I am amazed and know not what to say.”
Every writer runs across an essay occasionally, and says, “Damn, I wish I had written that.” Let’s just say that there are probably thousands of writers who wish they had written “The Pleasures of Eating.” Brilliant and prophetic at the same time, it has to be the best takedown of the current food system dominated by big agriculture.
I’m just going to start with one of the finest sentences I’ve ever read. “Like industrial sex, industrial eating has become a degraded, poor, and paltry thing.” Industrial sex? What a comparison. Every time I drive past a fast food place like Chickin-fil-whatever, I have the same thought.
Here’s another zinger, about how oblivious people are to the garbage they are eating. “One will find this same obliviousness represented in virgin purity in the advertisements of the food industry, in which the food wears as much makeup as the actors.” I actually had a student who worked as a food “stylist” and photographer, and she sprayed her food with hair spray before she took a picture of it. Enough said.
I will end with the thesis, which is something of an odd way to end, but it is “the proposition that eating is an agricultural act.” I won’t give all of Berry’s recommendations, but a revised version of the entire essay is posted on the interwebs. Alas, it omits the industrial sex reference. Read it, and weep anyway, for the current state of our food system. Then go to your local farmer’s market, and buy some real food.
I saw Mr. Berry once, when he gave a reading at the University of Illinois. He drove up from his farm in Kentucky, and showed up wearing a pair of overalls. That’s what we call keeping it real.
I now have a couple of months worth of new potatoes, because I grew these myself. Those in the picture are Yukon Gold and Russet potatoes. It’s next to impossible to buy potatoes of this quality. You have to grow them yourself.
With that said, hereby hangs a tale, as Shakespeare might have written. I come from a line of many generations of potato farmers, and my grandfather Earnie claimed to have started the sweet potato industry in Alabama. Here’s the story.
During the 1920’s, farmers from the South would travel to Northern industrial cities to work during the winter. Folks from Cullman would go to Cincinnati to be among their fellow German descended folks. Factory work paid better than sitting on your butt all winter.
Factory owners caught on to this migration, and instituted a rule that no one who quit to work at a higher paying factory could be re-hired by another one. Before the days of Social Security numbers and other ID, my grandfather just used a different name, every time he moved from factory to factory.
He would also look for markets for anything he grew. One day he ran across a grocery wholesaler who was really interested. Here’s how he would describe the conversation:
Wholesaler: “So what do you grow down there in Alabama?”
Earnie: “Our main crop is strawberries.”
Wholesaler: “Too perishable. They’d be rotten by the time they got up here.”
Earnie: “We also grow lots of sweet potatoes.”
Wholesaler: “Sweet potatoes! Oy vey! I can never get enough sweet potatoes. I’ll take three carloads.”
Earnie: “I’ll get three guys to bring up three carloads.”
Wholesaler: “No, I want three train carloads. That will just be the start.”
And thusly every sweet potato in the county was sold, and an industry born. The first time I walked into our first Whole Foods store, I saw a big sign that said “Local Sweet Potatoes,” next to the picture of a farmer I went to high school with. Taters run deep.