Cowpeas is a term used to describe a grouping of beans that are referred to as peas in the American south. In other English-speaking parts of the world, they would probably be called “beans”, with the word “pea” being reserved for the green English pea used as a vegetables.
Many different types of beans fall under the grouping of “Cowpeas.” Their actual names are based either on the colour of the bean, or on how closely spaced the beans are within their pods. Members of the Cowpea clan include Black-Eyed Peas, Cream Peas, Crowder Peas, Field Peas, Pink Eye Peas and Yellow-Eyed Peas.
They are all annual plants that need hot, dry summers to grow in. The beans can be eaten fresh or dried. For fresh-eating, they are generally ready to harvest 45 to 50 days after planting. At this point, they can be eaten fresh, or they can be frozen or canned. For use as peas for drying, Cowpeas are ready about 70 days after planting.
Called “Crowder Peas” because the peas are “crowded” in the pods. These peas tend to be more starchy. Varieties include “Lady” and “Purple Hull.”
Cream Peas are named for their colouring. They will have no black eye on them and are light in colour. When cooked, they yield a clear coloured broth. Varieties include Early Acre, developed in Arkansas.
In the American south, they call green fresh-eating peas “English Peas.” English Peas (aka Garden Peas, or what the rest of the English-speaking world just calls “peas”) need cooler summers to grow well in. Cowpeas are better suited to the hot summer conditions in the American south. See main entry on Peas for more detailed information on “English” peas.
The name “Cowpea” for these types of peas first appeared in print in America in 1798. Cowpeas are also called “Southern Peas” and “Zipper Peas”.