Black-Eyed Peas

By Kurt Nolte

• In 2012, Yuma County producers grew more than 2,300 acres of black-eyed peas, an increase from 800 acres in 2000.

• The seeded pods of various legumes are among the oldest foods known to humanity, dating back at least 4,000 years.

• The first domestication of black-eyed peas probably occurred in West Africa but the crop also is widely grown in many countries in Asia. It was introduced into the southern United States as early as the 17th century in Virginia. Today, it is one of the most important food legume crops in the semi-arid tropics covering Asia, Africa, southern Europe and Central and South America.

• Black eye pea is more drought resistant than the common bean.

• As legumes, they are extremely nourishing vegetables both to people and to the soil. They are able to fix nitrogen, meaning nitrogen from the air is taken in by the plant and bacteria living in the roots convert it to a useable plant nutrient. Because of this process, nitrogen-fixing plants improve soil quality by adding nutrients back into the soil.

• An economical source of protein, calories and B-vitamins, beans are useful as a meat substitute and in different parts of the world are a characteristic item – often a staple – of the national fare. Baked beans, cooked for hours with pork or molasses or both, is a traditional side dish.

• Black-eyed peas became a staple of the slaves’ diet in the southern U.S. During the Civil War, black-eyed peas (field peas) and corn were thus ignored by Sherman’s troops. Left behind in the fields, they became important food for the Confederate South. As a result, in the American South, eating black-eyed peas and greens (such as collards) on New Year’s Day is considered good luck: the peas symbolize coins and the greens symbolize paper money.

• Black-eyed pea pods are smooth, 6 to 10 inches long, cylindrical and generally somewhat curved. The small beige bean has a black circular “eye” at its inner curve that reminded some of a nun’s head attire, leading to its originally being called mogette – French for nun. Cow pea is another name for it.

• A common variation of the black-eyed pea is the purple hull pea. It is usually green with a prominent purple or pink spot.

• The black-eyed pea was traditionally harvested by hand when it was fresh. However, today the peas are harvested using grain combines after they’ve been left on the plant long enough to dry out.

Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at [email protected] or 726-3904. For additional information please visit

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