Pass the Greens and Peas, Please!

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” – Psalm 46:10

When I think about stillness, I remember my great-grandmother, “Bertha.” She grew up in rural Bienville Parish Louisiana in the early 1900’s. She died more 30 years ago, but as I reflect on her life now that I am an adult, a sister, wife, and mother – all roles I saw her live in my lifetime, I can trace much of her wholeness in these callings back to the practices of her life.  These included participating in a breadth of meaningful communities, sharing hospitality with others, including strangers, tending a garden, and rocking on her porch regularly.  She exercised a willingness to live in the processes of life.  It often looked something like first gear or neutral, but just as the scripture promises, the intangible rewards were great for her, along with the countless others who crossed her path.

Why were these practices integral to her life?  Perhaps because she was the second oldest of 10 children, had her own family, and lived a long life as a widow, she knew the benefits of participating in community – family, extended family, neighborhood and church. When anyone, and I mean anyone, came for a meal at her tiny house, they would be met with a sign above the dinner table which read, “Sit long, talk much.” No one was allowed to rush. And everyone was the better for it. Her simple meals often consisted of freshly shelled and simmered field peas and cornbread, next to whatever meat she had on hand. Tasting the love in her labored meal was hospitality at its heart. She also tended a rose garden in her backyard, where visitors enjoyed tours. It was her little haven for observing and savoring natural beauty. Lastly, she would rock on her porch regularly for a different kind of haven – one for reflection and prayer.

While people of the past certainly didn’t have life all figured out, I do see a connection between my great grandmother’s way of life and her overall well being and disposition. Those who knew her witnessed a self-forgetfulness in action. She loved God, loved others, exuded peace and joy in her circumstances, and just did not worry if she was so self-forgetful that she locked her keys in the car a time or two (while it was running!) because she knew Him! She knew He would take care of her in her imperfections. Her daily practices appear to have created time and space for knowing the One in whom she could rest.

In honor of my great grandmother and her version of “still life,” I want to leave you with a tweaked recipe of her peas. In late summer, field peas actually flourish under the oppressive heat in the Deep South. My preferred field pea: zipper creams. It’s not false advertising; they really are creamy, but any field pea will work for this recipe. Before getting started on this recipe, take a moment and consider how long shelling peas used to take without modern machines…and be grateful! I did this recently and something sounded familiar as I reflected on how machines achieve the perfect desired results in our place.  I was stumbling into Gospel territory at this point.  Just as machines do the long, hard, and painful work of shelling peas for us, I understood in a new way how Christ endured the long, slow, and excruciating labor on the cross to achieve the results of giving us His righteousness in exchange for our unrighteousness.

Psalm 46:10 invites us into places and spaces, convenient and inconvenient, where we might stop and find Him in the processes of life.  If you can’t chase down a bushel of fresh field pea pods to slow you down to reflection, then try focusing on cooking the peas themselves. Through the outwardly monotonous work of shelling peas or simple cooking, we are able to participate in the still and draw near to God – a practice that truly restores us.

Bertha’s Greens and Peas (Almost!)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 pound fresh Southern field peas (such as zipper creams or black-eyed peas)
3-4 cups low sodium chicken broth or water (enough to cover generously)
*optional: 1 small smoked ham hock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, small diced
1/4 cup (splash) fortified wine such as Marsala, Vermouth, or Sherry
1 large handful of baby kale, or other torn leafy greens, washed
*optional: 1-2 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs of choice (basil, parley, tarragon, or chives)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and Tobasco

1.  In a 4-quart saucepan, add peas, 1 garlic clove, ham hock if using, and liquid. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until tender and creamy.  Should take about 1 hour (time depends on the type and size of the peas). Remove ham hock, slice meat from bone, and chop; set aside.
2.  Heat a large saute pan over medium or medium-high heat. Add olive oil and then onions. Stir and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes or more.
3.  Using a garlic press, add minced garlic to the pan. Stir quickly to prevent garlic from burning. After the garlic has become fragrant, deglaze the pan with fortified wine and lift up all of the good flavor from the pan while stirring.
4.  While wine is reducing down in the pan, add kale, followed by fresh herbs and a generous pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pan for a minute or two, or until the greens wilt and become soft.
5.  Ladle the peas into the pan with more cooking liquid if serving in a bowl with cornbread, or less liquid if serving on a plate as a side dish.   Season as needed and don’t forget the Tobasco!

Makes 4-6 servings

– Lauren Browning


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