A quest to bring long-lost pea variety back to the Shenandoah Valley

Star chef Ian Boden says he launched Staunton fine-dinery, The Shack, in 2013 as “a springboard for exploring and interpreting the melting pot of historic Appalachian foodways.” That mission led the two-time James Beard Foundation Best Chef nominee down a rabbit hole of research—and to Slow Food USA Ark of Taste Committee chair, Dr. David Shields, a Carolina Distinguished Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina. 

“I wanted to know about heirloom vegetables that’d been grown here historically but, for whatever reason, got lost over time,” says Boden. His goal was to find varieties with promising culinary attributes “and work with local farmers to bring them back.” 

Whippoorwill cowpeas were high on Shields’ list. The African legume was one of the world’s oldest domesticated crops and brought to the Americas by enslaved peoples. It was beloved by Shenandoah Valley farmers for what Boden calls its “sweet, creamy, almost peanut-buttery flavor and texture.” But a shift to corporatized farming methods and genetically altered monocultures during the so-called Green Revolution of the 1950s led to its disappearance. 

Ian Boden’s take on Three Sisters: Whippoorwill field peas, sweet corn, candy roaster squash, sour corn. Photo courtesy of Ian Boden

Shields sent Boden seeds for a locally adapted heirloom variety, then Boden partnered with small-scale veggie farmer Flower & Fields to grow it. 

“I paid for the seeds and agreed to buy everything they could grow,” says Boden. And he was glad he did. “I love, love, love these peas and use them in everything from miso ferments to summer salads. They’re absolutely fantastic.” 

The project was so successful, three additional area farmers started cultivating the variety. Now you can find whippoorwill peas at Boden’s new restaurant, Maude & the Bear, and at local farmers markets alike.  MaudeAndTheBear.com


This article originally appeared in the Best of Virginia 2024 issue.

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