The first time I ever had black-eyed peas I was in 7th grade, living with my family in a place called Baumholder, Germany. Dad was in the Army, and the isolated military base attached to a tiny town was our home for almost three years.
I was a lonely kid. Ours was one of a small handful of Asian American families on base. I didn’t fit in with either the white kids or the black kids in my school. And being from Hawaii, we didn’t have much in common with the other- non-Hawaii- Asian families.
That’s what military families do. You learn to make friends with people, knowing you’ll leave after a couple of years and probably never see them again. On the other hand we “military brats” were exposed to cultures outside our norm, and that makes us resilient and open to new experiences, places and people.
One of the families we bonded with was the Washingtons, from New York. Harry, Evelyn and their kids lived in the same building on base. They were the first African Americans I really got to know. Harry took pity on me, I guess. I was a brainiac, sort of homely girl with few friends. I’d visit them in their upstairs apartment and Harry would play Yahtzee with me for hours on end. While we played, Evelyn would cook.
Our first winter in Germany was an icy, snowy, freezing experience for us. The Washington’s home was warm and smelled divine. Evelyn made pies, and collared greens… and black-eyed peas.
My mouth waters at the memory of those beans, slow cooked with a little bit of bacon or ham, creamy, salty, and– for a Hawaii kid– oh, so exotic.
When I grew up I tried my hand at making them. I’ve made up my own recipe, but getting it exactly like Evelyn’s wasn’t really the point. What I wanted was to duplicate what I felt with them — acceptance, friendship, warmth and love in our home far away from home.
One package dried black-eyed peas
One package ham shanks or ham hocks. I use the shanks
A large onion, two or three stalks of celery, a big carrot, garlic (minced) salt and pepper
Soak the beans overnight. You can start the shanks by covering them with water and simmering for about an hour, then refrigerate overnight.
The next day, scrape the fat off the top, add some beef broth and get the pot simmering again.
Shred the meat off the bones, discard bones. Add some ham, if you like it meatier.
Chop the onion, celery and carrots and throw them in, along with the garlic, beans and salt and pepper to taste.
Add a tablespoon or two of red wine vinegar.
Simmer until the black-eyed peas are very, very tender. It’ll take a while. Be patient.
Make some cornbread while you wait. Then ladle the delicious, stewie stuff into a big bowl and enjoy.