James Doyle of South Miami asked for help interpreting an ancestor’s diary, which spoke of eating little but “philpee and milk” when times were hard in South Carolina in the 1930s.
Readers came up with two distinctly different possibilities. Most said philpee was simply a regional spelling for field peas, but two suggested the answer was philpy, a Low Country quick bread made with leftover rice.
“I lived in rural South Carolina in 1933, as the letter stated, and I’m sure she meant field peas,” wrote Elizabeth Neale of Homestead.
Liz of Fayetteville concurred. “If you say that word with the Southern rural accent, you have ‘philpees.’ My Southern family said ‘balled corn’ but was talking about ‘boiled corn.’ ”
“My mother believes ‘philpee’ is field peas,” wrote Paula McKenzie of Pinebluff, N.C. “She is a farmer’s daughter and grew up in central North Carolina. It is a crop that grows readily here and can be dried to be eaten later.”
“A lot of folks thought field peas were for the cows to eat, but because of the scarcity of food, they began eating the peas,” Theresa Cocolin said. “Today, Southerners love field peas and eat them with apologies to no one. They are good with onions chopped up in them or chow-chow spooned on top.”
“In Georgia they are enjoyed as much as black-eyed peas or new spring peas,” said Kathy Allsworth. “But in other parts of the south (such as Tennessee) they are used only as livestock feed and were never considered fit for human consumption. … My mother was from Atlanta, but married and moved to Northeast Tennessee. Field peas could not be found anywhere near our home so whenever we visited our family in Georgia my mother would bring a suitcase filled with cans of field peas back to the mountains with her. To this day these little peas, cooked in fatback or streak o’lean, are still my favorite.”
“I was born, in 1945, on a farm in Lumberton, North Carolina, which is very near the South Carolina state line (10 miles),” said Frank Britt. “The reference is probably referring to field peas, which could have been dried or canned and stored the summer before. Dixie Lee field peas are a very common summer garden crop in that area and are often stored for consumption in the fall, winter and early spring until the next summer crops are ready to be harvested. In short, probably just a spelling error. Looks very much like the way my grandparents would have spelled it. Literacy and education were in short supply in those times in that area.”
Thanks also to Joan Robinson Carthage, Patsy Frank, Don Udelson, Phyllis Piccini, Susannah and Robert K. and Emma G.
Ibby Voorhees and “Old Timer” both shared the philpy recipe here from the venerable Charleston Receipts cookbook by the Junior League of Charleston, S.C. Lynne Olver, editor of foodtimeline.org provided two published references to philpy, from cookbooks written in 1847 and 1930.
It will be up to James Doyle to decide which dish his ancestor “made do” with in hard times. I actually loved this bread, which has a texture much like my Italian grandfather’s polenta. Heat any leftovers in the morning for a quick breakfast, brushed with butter and splashed with maple syrup.
Sun-kissed days, rum and outdoor entertaining seems a perfect trifecta, so I was attracted to the recipes in a free booklet from Cockspur Rum titled Summer Entertaining. We enjoyed the tropical flavors in the coconut shrimp and chicken recipe here. You can find the booklet at stores that carry the rum or on Cockspur Rum USA’s Facebook page.
Q. Lots of bakeries around Miami are selling a flourless chocolate cookie. The ingredients are simply powdered sugar, cocoa and egg whites. Can you tell me how to make these?
Helene, Coral Gables
You don’t say whether the cookie is chewy or crisp. If it’s a chocolate meringue cookie you’re seeking, recipes abound. For a soft cookie, try the recipe here.