The Secret to Good Black-Eyed Peas

 

My friend, Deb, recently celebrated another birthday. Our rushed society has come to think nothing of combining into one celebration, the birthdays of several friends or relatives. It is more convenient and less of a strain upon our limited time. Due to missed communication, I only left her birthday present, upon her doorstep, and then returned home without actually seeing her, on Her day. Later that night, I called to leave a birthday message, only to have Deb answer the phone. It was then that I learned that she had phoned and left a message notifying me of her change of plans on her birthday. She would not be home late that night, but would be home most of the day (apparently, except for the brief time that I stopped to leave her present).

So, I sent Deb an email, and then later called, and we arranged to spend most of the day together, a week later, in honor of her birthday. One of the presents I had left upon her doorstep, were a couple of small jars of one, a salad dressing, and two, barbecue sauce, which were recipes from “Mama Dips.” Both of these had been purchased at the Museum Shop of the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. I had stopped by there in hopes that I might find a book that Deb would like, but when my eyes had lit upon the name “Mama Dips,” I knew I had a small something to add as a present.

Deb had met Mama Dip at a speaking engagement. I had thought that she and her husband, Russ, had visited Mama Dips Restaurant in Chapel Hill, but on Saturday I found that this wasn’t the case.

In my email, I had suggested that we might eat at Mama Dips. Deb thought this was a very good idea, but it was only on Saturday morning that I realized that the Duke / Carolina basketball game was to be televised that night at 8pm. I couldn’t recall where the first game had been played, but soon googled and found that the game was going to be played in Chapel Hill.

I could not imagine a worse time to visit Chapel Hill, in order to eat at Mama Dips Restaurant. Could there be more people in Chapel Hill than on “game day” for the most important game of the season? The second meeting of the two basketball teams this season? Wouldn’t there be long lines at all restaurants, and impossible to find parking?

I eventually agreed to at least try to eat at Mama Dips, although, as we drove to Chapel Hill, I couldn’t imaging not having to backtrack and finding a less crowded restaurant along the way. And, as we went, Deb expressed that she was getting extremely hungry.

When we neared Chapel Hill, I started the Sprint Navigation app on my phone. I clicked on the “speak destination” option and when prompted, said, “Mama Dips.” I did not add the words, “restaurant,” nor “Chapel Hill,” but the app understood what I said, and came up easily with the location and directions to Mama Dips Restaurant on Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill, NC.

We made the suggested twists and eventually, as we turned into Mama Dips parking lot (running around and back of the restaurant), I saw several empty spaces, and no lines of any type waiting to enter her establishment. We parked, got out of the vehicle and walked around to the side of the building and up the steps.

As we entered the door, there was a couple waiting on a bench, but then it became obvious that there was no line for waiting to be served, and the maitre-d took a couple of menus and guided us into a crowded room and to a table for four.

The walls of the room amplified the noise of the people, with a door to the kitchen just off to my right.

A tall, thin, black waiter came to our table and we ordered sweet tea. Later, Deb ordered fried chicken, green beans and (I don’t recall, and apparently did not try some of it.), and a biscuit. I ordered the barbecue pork ribs, potato salad and black-eyed peas (with some chopped onion) and cornbread.

Two women sat at a booth in front of me. One had a baby boy.

At some point, there was a small commotion behind me as a group of guests came to their table and began to sit down. I first noticed a tall, bald, black man whose face was familiar, although my first thought was that he must have been a former Carolina ball player that I had seen on TV. I then recognized the face of a white TV commentator, and then I realized that the black man was also a basketball commentator. It was then that it made sense that college basketball commentators have to eat, just like the rest of us.

My first thought was that the white commentator was Jim Lampley, which I almost immediately knew was incorrect. Eventually, I was able to google and find that this was Jim Nantz. It was only at game time, later that night, when both Nantz and his co-anchor appeared on the TV screen, that I was able to say, that’s “Clark Kellogg.”

Nantz and the others began to talk about the game and players. Eventually, as Deb and I continued our meal, I realized that I could hear Nantz’s distinctive voice above the loud drone of the other people in the room. I told Deb that it was like leaving your TV on in the room, tuned to some program that you weren’t interested in, but wanting to have that familiar drone in the background.

I tried some of Deb’s fried chicken. The meat was moist and tender and had a very good flavor, and the breaded skin had good flavor. *Often, you can taste the oil in which the chicken was fried, but this wasn’t the case.

Deb tried some of my barbecue pork ribs. They were tender, moist and there was a good amount of meat on each bone. However, I did not think they had any barbecue sauce on them. The sauce was brought in a small plastic cup. The sauce had an unusual flavor, and a high vinegar content. I added some sugar to “turn” the vinegar, and later asked for another cup of sauce.

The potato salad was good, and included celery seeds, but it was not something that I would say was exceptional.

I asked for some chopped onions for my black-eyed peas. I thought the peas were under-cooked making them a little mealy, and too lightly seasoned for my taste, but then probably many people would not like the peas if they were more highly flavored. The cornbread was of the light cake type and did not detract from the rest of the meal.

Deb ordered Coconut Cream Pie for desert, and we both had coffee. The coffee was hot, and good. I tasted her desert. The pie reminded me of Pecan Pie, without the pecans and chewy coconut added. This definitely wouldn’t be something that I would order. Coconut cream pie should be light, hmmm… and creamy.

We left the restaurant, stopping outside the door to get several “free” magazines. As we drove around the back of the restaurant, Jim Nantz was getting into his vehicle with several other men. *I later would say that we had lunch at Mama Dips with Jim Nantz and left together. True, but subjective;-)

 

The Secret to Good Black-Eyed Peas

My favorite simple food might be “a mess of” cooked black-eyed peas, ham hock, and some chopped Vidalia onion. I could possibly enjoy a whole meal of nothing but this, and perhaps some cornbread. I like cornbread that is almost like a light cake, but I also like the flat fried type of corn cake.

I found that cooking black-eyed peas and ham hock is easy if you use a slow cooker. Use the dried beans, and add plenty of water to cover them (and allow for the absorption of much of the water into the beans). I like a ham hock with a good bone and several knots of good meat that will eventually “fall off the bone.” Add a little ground pepper. Let them cook slowly for at least 4 hours. Taste them at the end of the 4 hours period, looking to see if they have fully cooked (and are not mealy) and are tender.

Once the beans are tender, you might mash some of the beans up, which will help the broth thicken.

Now, the “secret” is to pull the beans off the heat, let them cool, and then put them in a bowl and cover them and let them refrigerate overnight. The next day, re-heat the beans and ham hock, chop up some sweet Vidalia onion and serve. The flavors will break down and meld together overnight (or perhaps by the refrigeration), and what are good beans will become great beans. I have several times tried to speed the process, but the beans are “always better the second day.”

If you have a surplus of the cooked beans that last into the 3rd day, then you might boil some white or small red potatoes, quarter or halve them and add them to the beans.

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