Mmmmmm! Don’t mean to make you jealous (yes, I do!), but I’ve got a pot of black-eyed peas simmering on the stove.
Just a little while ago, I fried a little bacon (oh, yes!), put it aside, then sautéed some chopped onion and celery in the drippings. After the onion and celery were happy-happy, I added them to my pot of pre-soaked peas (hello). Now everybody’s gently bubbling together until it’s time to serve them up. Stick around, cause I’ll share a bowl with you right after I tell you about this delectable new picture book.
Debut author/illustrator Rachel Himes has cooked up some plucky mouthwatering magic in Princess and the Peas (Charlesbridge, 2017), a 50’s spin-off of the classic fairy tale.
But don’t expect a hyper-sensitive princess or a pile of mattresses in a faraway kingdom. Himes takes us straight to Charleston County, South Carolina where food, family, and love reign supreme.
Meet Ma Sally, easily the best cook in the county. Though everybody loves her collard greens, sweet potatoes and hot rolls, she’s most famous for her black-eyed peas. Folks line up just for a taste of those succulent beauties at First Baptist Sunday evening potlucks.
But black-eyed peas are for more than just eating. In this amusing story, they help Ma Sally find the right wife for her son John, who just happens to be the most eligible bachelor in town. Why yes, he sets hearts pitter pattering whenever he’s around.
When John passed the corner restaurant on his way home after coaching the neighborhood baseball team, Miss Harriet would run out to meet him with something from the kitchen. On Sundays, Miss Hannah sat in the front row of the church choir so she could see John in the first pew. And Miss Hattie, the town librarian, made sure that John’s book requests were always ready for him.
One morning at the breakfast table John decides it’s time for him to marry, but Ma Sally has her doubts about the local girls: “Anybody who wants to marry my John will have to cook as well as me.” A tall order to be sure.
Clever Ma Sally holds a little contest at her home for anyone wanting a chance with John. When Hannah, Harriet, and Hattie show up, she tells them that whoever cooks the best black-eyed peas can marry her son. They make a mess in her kitchen and their peas are terrible: “Harriet’s peas were too mushy. Hannah’s peas were too salty. Hattie’s peas tasted like nothing at all.”
Sigh. What to do? The next moment, the new girl saunters in, asking for a chance to enter the contest. Full of confidence, she introduces herself as “Princess,” and sets to work slicing, dicing, and stirring. That girl definitely knew what she was doing. Would Ma Sally like her peas? Everyone held their breath. “These peas are the best I’ve ever tasted!”
Woo-Hoo! High praise indeed. John’s ecstatic. Would Princess like to marry John? Well, this spunky lady has a mind of her own. She suggests they get to know each other better by going dancing at the juke joint the following weekend.
And another thing. She’s a good cook, but what about John? What can he do? Can he scrub pots and pans? The next second he’s up to his elbows in dishwater. Yep, two peas in a pod, and a mighty tasty happily ever after. 🙂
I love Himes’s lively storytelling and marvelous acrylic, watercolor, ink, pencil, and collage illustrations. It was fun to see all the 50’s outfits and immerse myself in this close-knit African American community. Her rich colors and emotive depictions of people interacting add lots of warmth and friendliness.
Though the plot reminded me more of the ‘King looking for a suitable husband for his daughter” fairy tale motif than the Princess and the Pea story, I enjoyed meeting the interesting residents of the town, each with a distinctive look and personality. The three women whose names begin with “H” were “anxious as a pack of hens at suppertime.” And we all know someone like Ma Sally, a protective parent who shows her love with food.
Of course the generous servings of Southern dishes had me salivating from the opening Sunday potluck spread. It’s cool how the story really begins with Himes’s pictures; even before the title page we see the new young woman riding into town aboard a bus, and by the second page of written narrative, we see her walking down the street in the background as we meet John. Later, we see in another picture how the two first meet at the town grocer, but we don’t actually hear from her until she arrives for the cooking contest.
In her Author’s Note, Himes mentions that this story takes place “at the first stirrings of the civil rights movement.” It’s good to see a character like Princess, not your stereotypical 50’s female whose sole aspiration is to marry and raise children. She’s a strong female role model who stands out from the other young women in the story for more than just her cooking.
Now, about those black-eyed peas.
Of course Rachel included a recipe in the back of the book; it wouldn’t be fair to talk about black-eyed peas page after page, without giving us a chance to make our own. 🙂
I don’t remember eating black-eyed peas very often growing up, except when my mom made her ham hock and peas soup. This was my first try at making them all by themselves, and luckily the recipe was very simple and they turned out great.
Vegans and vegetarians can of course omit the bacon topping, and use vegetable oil instead of butter to sauté the onions and celery. Parental supervision is advised, making this a good family activity. Enjoy!
Princess's Black-Eyed Peas
- 8 oz. dry black-eyed peas
- 4 slices bacon or 4 T butter
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- salt and pepper, to taste
Place peas in a large pot and add 3-1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, and simmer for two minutes. Remove from heat and allow peas to soak, covered, for one hour. Do not drain the water.
If using bacon, cook it in a large skillet until crispy. Remove bacon and reserve for topping. If using butter, melt it over medium heat. Add onion and celery to bacon drippings or melted butter and cook until tender. Add garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper, and stir well.
Add mixture to peas and return to heat. Simmer, covered, over medium heat for about 35 minutes or until peas are tender, stirring occasionally. Crumble the reserved bacon, if prepared, on top of peas as they are served.
~ adapted from Princess and the Peas by Rachel Himes (Charlesbridge, 2017), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.
PRINCESS AND THE PEAS
written and illustrated by Rachel Himes
published by Charlesbridge, April 2017
Picture Book for ages 5-8, 32 pp.
*Includes Author’s Note and Recipe
**On Shelves April 11, 2017
📕 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! 📘
The publisher is generously donating a brand new copy of the book for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, simply leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EDT) Tuesday, April 11, 2017. You can also enter by sending an email with “PRINCESS” in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!
*Interior spreads posted by permission of the publisher, text and illustrations copyright © 2017 Rachel Himes, published by Charlesbridge. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.