Heirloom Cowpeas Recipe

Heirloom cowpeas, shelled and harvested from Stacy Lyn's garden cooked into a soup

Have y’all heard about cowpeas?

You may have never heard that name, but you’ve probably had the variety of them known as black-eyed peas or southern peas. That’s right, my Hoppin’ John recipe is really a cowpeas recipe.

Cowpeas are not really peas but beans. Both beans and peas are types of legumes, so they’re all in the same family. “Cowpea” is a generic term for more than a dozen varieties of legumes that are thought to be native to West Africa. They grow well in the South because they tolerate heat, humidity, and even drought. My dad passed several heirloom cowpeas down to me from his garden, ones that he received as seeds from his own father’s garden.

You can order cowpeas online or buy them at your local co-op. They are a perfect cover crop if you need nitrogen in your garden. Cowpea are “running” plants, meaning they grow into a vine that is perfect for a garden trellis if you want to grow vertically.

One of the memories that always comes back to me is sitting on my back porch shelling peas with my granny. Sharing these special times with her, those memories from participating in the vegetable preparation and preservation, has encouraged me to slow down and enjoy the simpler, more quiet “handsy” work with my own children.

Right now, our family’s favorite varieties of cowpeas are “Old Timer” or “Purple Hull Speckled”, “Big Red Ripper”, “Purple Hull Pink Eye” and the “Whipporwill Cowpea”. They can be used interchangeably in the recipe below.

How To Freeze Cowpeas

Cowpeas freeze very well, so you can put them up and enjoy them all year long. It’s really easy to do. After you shell and wash the peas, add them to a pot of water and bring them to a boil. (You can also soak them ahead of time to avoid digestive ills.) Cook them until they are almost done, then plunge the pot with the peas in them into a cool sink full of water. Once cool enough (around room temperature), drain and add them to a quart-sized zip-top bag and lay them flat in the freezer. They stack great and take up very little space.

If you are freezing the purple hull or black-eyed variety, pull them out around New Year’s and make my Hoppin’ John recipe. Heck, that recipe is great to use all year long!

Cowpeas are fantastic nourishment for us and wildlife. They have a ton of protein as well as essential vitamins and minerals. We plant them for the wildlife and take some of the bounty for ourselves! Deer in particular absolutely love any form of cowpeas. They eat the entire plant right down to the ground.

For this recipe and others like it, check out Stacy Lyn’s Harvest Cookbook. It has so many of my family’s favorites!

Heirloom cowpeas, shelled and harvested from Stacy Lyn's garden cooked into a soup

Heirloom Cowpeas

Our family's favorite varieties of cowpeas are "Old Timer" or "Purple Hull Speckled", "Big Red Ripper", "Purple Hull Pink Eye" and the "Whipporwill Cowpea". They can be used interchangeably in this recipe.
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American, Southern


  • 4 cups fresh heirloom cowpeas
  • 4 cups water or chicken stock for a deeper flavor
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 vidalia onion
  • olive oil


  • Place cowpeas, chicken stock, butter, and 1 tablespoon or 3 teaspoons salt into a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, lower to simmer.
  • Meanwhile, sauté diced red bell pepper in olive oil on medium heat until al dente. Dice onion. When peas are just about tender (about 30 minutes on simmer), pour into bowl and sprinkle bell peppers and raw onion mixture on top. If you like, you can garnish with fresh cilantro or fresh parsley before serving.
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