Named zipper peas for the way the pod opens when the fibrous strand down its center is pulled, these legumes are members of the cowpea family. Originating in Africa, the peas are grown primarily in the warm climate of the Southern states. Freshly picked and liberated from their pods with a swift motion, zipper peas provide a good, but mild-flavored, source of protein. Enhance the flavor of Southern zipper peas in traditional style with aromatic vegetables and smoky bacon to create a pot of down-home comfort food.
Pick through about 2 cups of fresh zipper peas to remove any debris. Rinse the peas under cool running water and set them aside.
Cut four strips of bacon into half-inch pieces and place them in a large cooking pot. Turn the heat to medium and cook the bacon for eight to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pieces are crispy. Lift the bacon out of the pot with a slotted spoon and place it on paper towels. Pour about half of the bacon fat out of the pot.
Chop one large onion, one large carrot and one stalk of celery into half-inch pieces. Place the vegetables in the cooking pot with the remaining bacon fat. Turn the heat to medium high. Stir the vegetables every minute or two as they cook to a light golden-brown color. Mix in two cloves of minced garlic and cook for another two to three minutes.
Dump the washed zipper peas into the pan, along with 2 to 2 1/2 cups of chicken stock. When the liquid comes to a full boil, reduce the heat to medium.
Skim any foam off the top of the mixture and discard it. Stir the cooked bacon into the pot.
Simmer the zipper peas for about 45 minutes, skimming off any additional foam that may accumulate and stirring every five minutes. If necessary, add several tablespoons of water to maintain a soupy consistency as the peas and vegetables cook.
Dip a spoon into the pot, taking out a bite-size amount of the zipper peas and vegetables. Allow the sample to cool, then taste it to determine how much seasoning to add. Sprinkle in salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to suit your preference.
Zipper peas maintain their shape and structure when cooked. If you prefer a creamy soup, remove about 1 cup of the cooked mixture. When it is sufficiently cool, puree it in a blender or food processor, then stir it back into the cooking pot.
Wash your hands, utensils and any surfaces that come in contact with the raw bacon to prevent the spread of foodborne organisms that could cause illness.