Purple Hell Peas

By Reba Phelps

If you were raised in the Deep South or even have relatives in the South then you are aware of the summertime rituals that pepper the memories of most southerners. These mental snapshots most likely include some type of family member, a porch and some type of vegetable that needed tending to.

My summers were no different.

While my family never had a garden to tend, we always seem to have an endless supply of the goodness that came from God’s green earth. Snap beans. Purple hull peas. Tomatoes. Squash. Okra. Corn. These are just a few of the vegetables that became our chore during the heat of the summer.

When my siblings and I were much younger it produced many hours of joyful entertainment. As we grew older we discovered there were many more summer pleasures that we were missing out on because we were too busy being part time farmers. Farmers with permanently purple stains on our fingertips and under our nails.

We were interested in anything that did not include shelling, shucking, blanching or Zip-Lock bags.

One particular summer my parents left us in charge of shelling what seemed to be four mountains of purple hull peas. They had to be shelled and washed before we were allowed to partake of the lake activities with our friends. We felt like we were in a purple hull hell. Why did we need so many peas? It was never ending.

I called one of my friends and advised her of the terrible pea situation and that we may be late leaving for our date to soak up the rays at Saline Lake. Being the good friend that she was she explained that she had access to a pea sheller, a small machine that will shell these peas for us in a record amount of time.

What? There is a machine for this? I was in utter disbelief of this black magic. Of course, we took her up on her offer of salvation from the purple hull mountain that we were facing. When she showed up, she also brought another friend. This pea sheller did not disappoint.

We had formed an assembly line.

We had two friends force feeding the peas in the sheller and three of us washing and cleaning up the mess. When we were done there was nothing standing between us and our summer shenanigans. We proceeded to the lake even though, I just had a suspicion that we cheated the system. Our fingertips lacked the purple dye that normally accompanies the shelling. Something just felt off but we would have to worry about that later.

We had a lake, friends, baby oil and iodine waiting on us.

The water at Saline Lake seemed to be more beautiful than ever that day. The sun was beaming perfectly and not a cloud in the sky. There was even a small but helpful breeze blowing. It was a perfect day and I wish that I had realized at that moment that it would be the last time I saw the lake that summer.

When we arrived home, both my mom and dad were waiting outside for us as if to deliver the bad news that someone had passed away. But, it wasn’t a somber look. I recognized this look. It was a look that can only be delivered from the angry face of parents who love Jesus but will go ham on their children at the drop of a hat.

We slowly exited the vehicle as our parents waved goodbye to our friends. It was the last time we saw our friends that summer.

Apparently there is an art to operating a pea sheller. You were only supposed to feed it only a few at a time. Therefore, due to our lack of research we smashed more than half of that crop of peas as we fed the machine handfuls at a time. I tried to explain that we were never advised to not use an electric pea sheller. If you don’t set expectations then thats when things may go awry.

My poor explanation bought us eight weeks of sitting at home to think about our lazy and selfish ways. Looking back I do firmly believe that the Holy Spirit was trying to warn me by saying, “Hey sis, you are cutting corners and this will end poorly for you.”

I should have listened to that still small voice.

Cutting corners has never worked for me, even though I give it a try every now and then. It seems as though I am most successful when I remind myself daily that everything we do we should act as though we are doing it for the Lord. Hard work always pays dividends in the end.

These days my purple hell peas come from the frozen section of the grocery store or a local farmer who has already done the grunt work. The great thing about buying peas already shelled and prepped is that there is no purple dye left on my nails for days. The sad thing about buying peas already shelled and prepped is that there is no purple dye left on my nails for days.

The best life lessons were learned on a porch in the heat of the summer with some vegetables.

“May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us. yes, establish the work of our hands” – Psalm 90:17


To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE

14 thoughts on “Purple Hell Peas

  1. We shelled purple hull peas this week! My husband and I both grew up on porches filled with vegetables waiting to be prepped and put in the freezer. I really don’t mind it now, because I don’t want a Thanksgiving dinner without a big bowl of purple hull peas!

  2. Thank goodness my father n law had a pea sheller. It was never in my nature to sit in a hot house, shell peas, and then turn that kitchen into an inferno. Hell is no hotter than my mother n laws kitchen n July in Kisatchie.

  3. My husband just went by Anderson Farms and he is closed until next season! We get a lot of fresh vegetables from him!

  4. Reba, this brings back so many memories of my childhood. My daddy always picked the peas, butter beans, and snap beans before he left for work, it was the kids job to get them shelled, of course our mama always helped us or we would probably have never have finished. I loved this time and hated it at the same time. I loved it because mama told us stories of what life was like when she was a little girl, however unlike us she loved her life which was much harder than ours. We shelled on our front porch so we saw lots of our friends as they passed by on their way to Caney Lake which was less than 2 miles from our house, how we wanted to be on the lake with them. It seemed that was all we ever did, shell those peas, so I said to myself that I would never marry a man who would plant a garden, and he didn’t until we had been married about 5 years, but at least it was not a truck patch like my daddy’s. After a while he stopped planting and we just bought our produce from Anderson’s Farm already shelled, however, I look back on my childhood with fond memories. Thanks for bringing these memories to my mind!

  5. I just noticed the title of this article, and I’m wondering if it’s a typo or was it meant to be “Purple HELL Peas” – or does a correction need to be made?

  6. For us it was shelling snap peas, shucking corn (always more interesting when there was a little worm inside), and pulling heads off shrimp. Mom also started in October shelling pecans to send to the northern relatives in time for Christmas. Five-pound bags to grandparents and eight sets of aunts & uncles. I guess they appreciated it. They sent us Swiss Colony gift packages, fruitcakes, and real maple syrup. Only three uncles and three aunts left, and I wish I had told them all how much I love them.

  7. I love sitting on the back deck, fan on to feel cooler by just a bit, shelling peas with my mother. While we were shelling peas, she would tell stories of her childhood, about all the things she and her siblings enjoyed had fun doing back in the 1930’s. Then she woiuld tell how hard they had to work, and the theory she had that there are problems today with young people because they never had to work as hard as the ones who grew up during the depression.

    I loved shelling peas, shucking corn, snapping green beans, and all the other things we could do on the back porch. Getting to know your mother through her old stories after she reaches her 80s is something very something everyone needs to experience. The stories older parents can tell are so special, and when you get to my age, in my 70’s, you really realize how very special they are. We don’t have our parents forever, and knowing their life story is something we can hold on to for as long as we live. I would not give up those experiences with my mother for anything. They were special, so very special, and they are memories that will stay with me, all the while understanding the hardships she dealt with as a child of the depression, no money for much of anything special. I guess those things were part of who she was, and maybe what made her so very kind and sweet. Also the best cook in Louisiana in my opinion. I sure do miss her, but I treasure the memories and thankful for all she taught me.

  8. You bring back memories for me as well. I shelled many a Purple Hull, and butter beans. yep I
    wished for a pea sheller then also, but my grandmother had tried a hand-operated sheller with
    similar issues as you mention. We did at least 2 bushels one summer, sore purple fingers!

  9. I loved your story! Can you tell me where I can buy them at? I would love to have some. Thank you!

    • Terrie, I always buy mine at Anderson Farms, which is just before you get to Coushatta up Hwy 1 or I-49. He has a lot of vegetables and fruits and is open every year. A lot like Lester’s in Coushatta, Jason has a huge place, shaded and with fans blowing to keep you a little cooler, with tables full of fresh picked vegetables. He also has watermelons, cantaloupe and peaches when in season. You can get his purple hull peas, already shelled and pretty, in gallon bags in the cooler. I always get some fresh tomatoes to enjoy with them.

    • I am familiar with the routine. My cousin had just reached her teen years and was allowed to wear makeup and such. She joined the grown ladies and they shelled a #3 washtub full of shelled peas. The peas were washed, processed and canned. I don’t know how many quart jars were produced but I was given three of them to take back to Houston. We were eager to eat some of those peas so we opened a jar, made some cornbread, cooked the peas and sat down for a great Louisiana meal.

      I took a big spoonful of peas and spat them immediately back onto my plate. They had a strange and awful taste. How disappointed I was as I tried to figure out what had happened. Then I realized the taste reminded me of the smell of cheap perfume. Ahha, I figured it out. My young cousin had put on her light pink lipstick as she prepared to join the grown ladies in shelling the field peas and poured her cologne onto her hands to apply to her body. Without washing her hands she joined in the shelling and “flavoring” a #3 wash tub full of peas.

Comments are closed.