Growing up, I absolutely hated it when Mama or Daddy called on me to help shell beans. I’ve always been guilty of biting my fingernails, so I never had long nails when called on to help with shelling. Who knows, maybe I always kept them trimmed down to the quick so I wouldn’t be able to shell beans.

So, what could I have possibly been thinking, just a few days ago, when I purchased a large basket of unshelled peas?

My older brother and I were on a road trip through Newton Grove, North Carolina when I spotted a roadside produce stand. I’ve written before about how our family sold produce from our own stand in my younger days and my older brother has plenty of stories of his own about selling fresh vegetables from the garden. We just have to stop anytime we see a produce stand – it’s in our blood.

There was just something about that big box of peas sitting on that table, beneath the shade of a big oak tree. I had been planning to do this recipe and I wanted fresh peas. Before I knew it, that box was sitting in the back seat of my pickup. What had I done?

I will not admit here just how long it took me to shell them all, but I did indeed shell each and every last one of them. I shelled with a vicious passion. My fingers tightened and hurt, but I kept at it.

Many times throughout those  hours of shelling, I thought back on how many Mama and Daddy must have shelled over their lifetime. I just had to whisper a prayer of thanks for all the work they did to provide for the family. I was, and I am, blessed.

My older brother calls the dish below one of his favorite family dishes, but I think Mama must have cooked it more in his youth than in mine. I was never a fan of okra, so maybe that’s why I don’t have as many memories of this as he does. With fresh peas in the freezer, I finally had the chance to cook up a big old pot of my own. And, to honor my older brother, I added a few pods of okra to them.

For the record, I still don’t like to shell peas. I did achieve a bit of satisfaction from completing the entire box of them though. I think Mama would have been proud of my efforts. Or, maybe she would just be confused about why I even tried.

I do hope you’ll try this recipe. You can certainly use frozen field peas if need be. I would suggest frozen over the canned variety, but use what you can find, and let me know what you think.

Ready to get in the kitchen? Alright then… let’s get cooking.

What you’ll need to make the dish:

  • 2 lb. field peas with snaps, fresh or frozen
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 ham hock or 1 tablespoon bacon grease
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6-8 small okra pods

Field Peas with Snaps and Okra (PDF).


You’ll need these ingredients.


This recipe will cook much faster than if you were cooking with dry beans. Because of this, I prefer to cook the seasoning meat a little by itself at first, and then add the beans. To begin, place about 6 cups of water in a medium sized sauce pot and add the seasoning meat of choice. I’m using side meat here. Place this over medium-high heat on your stove top and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to about medium and let the meat simmer for 30 minutes.


After the seasoning meat has simmered add the field peas and snaps to the sauce pot. Add the Sugar, and stir well. Bring the peas back up to a full rolling boil, adjusting heat as needed. Once it starts to boil, you’ll probably see some foam forming across the top. Reduce the heat back down to medium to let the beans simmer.


Using a spoon, skim off any foam and discard it. Old timers used to say this was some type of impurity that was in the vegetables and they would skim it off. It is just some type of protein in the food and it will not harm anything should you decide not to remove it. It just makes the final dish look better to skim it off. When the foaming stops, cover the pot with a lid, and let the field peas simmer for 20 minutes. Then remove the lid and add the salt and black pepper.

Our recipe is calling for one teaspoon salt, but you might want to taste your peas before you add that much. Depending on what you used for seasoning meat in the beginning, you may not need to add much more. Add accordingly and to your personal taste. It’s always better to add a little at first, then you can add more later if still needed. Stir it all together.


Trim the ends off the okra pods and add okra to the pot. Stir gently.

Cover the sauce pot once again, and let everything simmer for about 15-20 more minutes, or until the peas are tender. Peas should be a bit firm and not mushy. If your liquid is getting a bit thicker than you’d prefer, add a little warm water.

These were cooked a bit on the “creamy” side, just the way we like them. You may prefer yours a bit thinner.

Leftover liquid is known as “potlikker” and goes great with some crumbled up cornbread mixed in. Serve it all with a couple of slices of fresh tomatoes, and maybe some baked sweet potatoes or roasted corn on the cob. Serve warm and Enjoy

Steve Gordon is a writer, recipe tester, and lover of all things Southern. You can read more of his writing and step-by-step recipes at Click here to find more of his recipes.

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Gordon is an award-winning food preservationist and fisherman based in Sanford. He regularly contributes recipes at and operates a Southern recipe blog,