Seeking Dixie Lee

When we were children, summer meant a lot of different things to us. Long days of freedom, the river, the woods and the many errands thought up by the adults to lighten their load and keep us occupied. And there was also a bounty of good things to eat. Things you couldn’t get for love or money the rest of the year.

It was always a big day when the field peas started coming in. We had Dixie Lee Field Peas, and once they began it seemed there was no end.

olivia6-25 Page 4A.inddLooking back, there was a lot of time spent companionably on the front porch, shelling and snapping. Dixie Lees are the field peas that are a somewhat smaller version of the black-eyed pea, but the flavor is a little different and the ones that aren’t filled out enough to shell are snapped up and put into the pot with the peas to cook.

We always ate them as Hopping John, a simple dish of peas served over fluffy white rice. It was a staple of the summer table and accompanied by sliced ripe tomatoes — there is nothing this side of heaven to compare.

There are two kinds of peas grown on Fowler Farm, Red Rippers, an heirloom pea, and Dixie Lees. They’re classified in most seed catalogs as cowpeas. At least, they used to be.

And when we first began planting them years ago, they weren’t that hard to locate. But that was then.

One by one, seed suppliers stopped carrying the seed. For some time, we’d order them from a seed supplier in Richmond, Va. But last year that company dropped them, too.

I suppose there’s not enough of a demand any more, as fewer and fewer people farm.

Thank goodness for the internet. I searched and searched and finally found a farm supply company in East Texas that carries them.

I called and talked to the nicest man. He told me that the ranchers they supply plant hundreds of acres of the pea and harvest them as cattle feed. I suppose this is why they are classified as a cowpea.

We only needed a couple of pounds, but he explained that the smallest amount they shipped was a five-pound bag. We could order a 50-pound bag, which I suppose would plant several acres.

So I put in an order for a five-pound bag, and he said they’d ship them out. But when I asked how he’d like me to pay, he surprised me.

“Y’all can just mail us a check after it comes. We’ll stick the bill inside.”

I didn’t think there was anyplace left on earth that did business this way, and it was a good feeling to know there is still some trust in the world.

So when the seeds came in the mail a few days later, I immediately filled out a check and sent it off. The shipping bill was as much as the cost of the seed, but well worth the expense.

So now we know what to do when we run out of seed. And as long as we can grow food, we’ll have plenty of peas for the freezer.

Someday I’d like to go out to East Texas and meet these folks at this feed and seed store. I think they must be pretty nice people.