The legumes known variously as Southern peas, cowpeas, and field peas all belong to the genus Vigna unguiculata, though closely related legumes such as butter beans are often considered to be, in gastronomic terms, part of the same family. There are dozens of subvarieties, but we’re especially fond of five, for their versatility and distinctive appearance and flavors.
1. The zipper cream, invented by a Florida agronomist in 1972, is actually a cross between a crowder pea and a cream pea (see below); the variety gets its name from the fact that the peas can be whisked from their hull in a zipping motion.
2. Though not in the same genus as Southern peas, butter beans exhibit a similarly luscious texture and taste and are often lumped into the Southern-peas category; we like the speckled variety.
3. The light-hued, unblemished surface of cream peas accounts for the name, though the moniker is often attributed to the cooked peas’ butter-soft texture.
4. The pink-eyed purple hull has a mottled hull and a red spot at the center of each pea.
5. Crowders have a squarish shape, a result of their being densely packed inside the hull (hence the name); brown crowders (shown), which have a deep, earthy flavor, are the most prevalent in the South.