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May 5, 2014

How to shell field peas the way my southern granny does

You’re just not southern if you’ve never shelled a field pea – or at least seen your granny do it a time or two.  Shelling time, much like a quilting circle, is a time for socializing and togetherness.  Everyone gets involved.  I can see my granny sitting on her front porch now with a bucket of freshly picked peas and a bowl ready for shelling.

Field peas or Cowpeas are a southern way of life.  They grow very well in drought or dry conditions, poor soil and need very little tending.  Used as livestock fodder and historically as a subsistence food for the poor, they grace pretty much every southern table these days.  The multitude of varieties (of which the black-eyed pea is the most known) is staggering. 

My granny and grandpa live a true rural southern life.  They are my original examples of the homesteading craft and have always planted a garden, had a small orchard behind their house, canned, dried and otherwise “put up” their harvest and made do with what they had. Some variety of field peas has been a part of their garden plan for as long as I can remember.  The most memorable are the Purplehull.  These look similar to black-eyed peas when shelled, however, have a showy purple pod when ripe or dry.  They are a little smaller and creamier too.

Shelling field peas isn’t all that difficult.  These days there’s even a gizmo that will do it for you.  Granny never had that sort of thing so she’s always done it by hand.  God gave us hands for a reason, after all.

First let’s gather our supplies.

You’ll need:

·       2 large empty bowls or buckets or bags (one for the shells and one for the shelled peas) – granny uses large shallow bowls
·       1 bucket, bowl, bag or whatever of freshly picked pea pods
·       A comfortable place to sit
·       Some iced sweet tea (it’s a southern thing) and
·       A mess of friends to help

OK, now you’re all set, grab your supplies, find your seat (granny likes the old church pew on her front porch) and let’s get shellin’!

Depending on your dominant hand you’ll want to put your pea pods on your non-dominant side.

Place one empty bowl on your lap and the other beside you on your dominant side.

Take a pea pod from your bag, bucket, bowl (whatever) and snap off the top tip over the bowl beside you.  Then, using your thumbnail, split the pod down the seam (you could also use a small paring knife for this if you're very careful not to cut too deep).  Once the pod is open, make sure you are above the bowl in your lap and run your thumb down the inside.  The peas should fall right into your bowl.  That’s all there is to it!

Shelled peas can be cooked immediately, frozen or cooked and canned.  At any rate you’ll need to process them quickly as they don’t last long after being taken from the vine.  Granny likes to freeze hers.  She will also let some pods dry on the vine to store as dry peas and to use as seeds for the next year.

One little note of caution:  make sure you wear something that you don’t mind getting stained.  If you’re shelling a colored variety like the Purplehull your fingers WILL be purple and you may transfer some of that to your clothing along the way.

Happy shellin’ y’all!

I'll share Granny's field peas & skillet cornbread recipe in a separate post.

Have you ever had field peas? If so what kind?
This post has been shared on the following "Hops": Homestead Barn Hop; Backyard Farming Connection; HomeAcre Hop


  1. Hi there! Love this post. I found you through Homestead Barn Hop. Have a great day.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment! I'm so glad you liked the post.

  2. AnonymousMay 06, 2014

    Oh boy, that is a long process. My grandma would put the dry ones in a jute bag, tie it and hang it in
    the garage or barn and hit it with a stick. the beans would fall at the bottom of the bag and voila it was so fast and hardly any work. dede

    1. That does seem like a very good idea for shelling the dried ones. Granny hand-shells her fresh peas. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving your comment. It's always great to hear about how others do things. :-)

  3. Thanks for sharing your post on the HomeAcre Hop, hope to see you again tomorrow! - Nancy The Home Acre Hop

  4. AnonymousJuly 18, 2017

    I'm so glad you liked the post.thanks ..


  5. Enjoyed this. Just finished shelling a bunch with my four year old daughter!

  6. Thank you for sharing valuable information.




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