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Carolina Plantation Cowpeas
Field peas (Vigna unguiculata), commonly called cowpeas, are lentil-sized legumes. Tolerant of shade and drought, cowpeas were grown together with corn, rice, and other grains. The peas as well as the practice of intercropping are both legacies of the slave trade. Like other legumes, such as beans, cowpeas have long been important to agriculture for their contribution to nitrogen fixation in the soil.
Cowpeas have long been a staple of the Southern kitchen and are treasured for their rich, sweet, earthy flavor. These little mahogany colored dried peas — and not black-eyed peas, which are used elsewhere — are the traditional kind paired with rice in the Low Country in coastal South Carolina to make Hoppin’ John, a luck-bringing dish eaten for the New Year. High in protein, cowpeas are also delicious any other time of year.
Use & Care
Store in a cool, dry place. Soak overnight in cold water before using.
Production & Design
Plumfield Plantation, located on the Great Pee Dee River in Darlington, South Carolina, was built in the early 1800s by the state's governor David R. Williams. Williams built a levee system to protect his fields from seasonal floods. More than two centuries later, fifth-generation farmer Campbell Coxe realized the levees could be used to keep water in.
An avid outdoorsman, Coxe began growing rice in 1995, mostly as a way to attract waterfowl and other wildlife. He started with just 20 acres and planted the heirloom variety Della, a basmati-like, aromatic long grain. At first, he sent his crop to a mill in Arkansas, as there were none in South Carolina, but demand and production increased enough that Coxe built his own rice mill at the plantation in 2002 to process the grain to his exacting standards.
In 2005, he began growing Carolina Gold Rice, a prized heirloom variety that had been brought back from near extinction in the 1980s. Coxe is one of the founding members of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, an organization dedicated to advancing the sustainable production of that variety and other heirloom grains and raising public awareness of the importance of historic ricelands.