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Please pass the pea patties ...

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

Any Southern woman worth her weight in Martha White flour has at least one drawer or cook book in her kitchen stuffed with recipes she has torn out of magazines or newspapers, fully intending to try each and every one of them.

Most of these recipes are never cooked, baked, mixed or thought of again.

Mama had three drawers in a china cabinet filled with bits and pieces of newspaper recipes, most torn with jagged edges. As I was organizing them and sorting out the ones I wanted to save (after all, I do not have near enough torn-out-of-newspaper recipes), I happened upon one with a little story attached. The date on the paper was 1973. It was called "Pea Sausage."

It doesn't sound appetizing but the story was intriguing. I sat down at the kitchen table and began to read. A woman had written that her great-aunt had told her that after the Civil War, our people in the South were on the verge of starvation, so they looked for inventive ways to put food on a bare table. Since field peas were plentiful, they would gather, shell, wash and cook them with a little salt. They then drained the peas and mashed them to a fine pulp. Sage, red pepper and salt were added and mixed well. The mixture was then made into patties like sausage, rolled in flour then dropped into a hot lard or butter mixture. They were fried until well browned.

Now, I love peas and beans of all kinds so I could see this as being very tasty. Besides, I'm Southern to the bone, so anything floured and fried sounds good to me. I am my mama's child. I cooked a pot of field peas and just as I began mashing them, a friend from California called. One who, I might add, has serious Yankee blood coursing through his veins.

"Are you busy?" he asked.

"I'm making fried pea patties," I responded.

It won't take a lot of imagination for you to conjecture up the response I got. Think hearty gales of laughter. This, of course, is a man to whom I had to explain what a-meat-and-three means. So consider the source. He's cute, but more highly bred than my lowly ways.

After I had explained, he said, a bit dubiously, "OK, call me back and let me know how they turn out." I could tell he did not have high hopes.

I left the sage out because I didn't really want it to taste like sausage, but the texture as I formed it into patties, felt like sausage. Even as I was frying it in olive oil -- not lard -- I was thinking how to vary the recipe: Add cooked rice, cheese, onions, peppers or okra. If it changes the texture, just add some flour.

As I was cooking it, I thought of vinegar pie, another delicacy born out of hard times and starvation. When there was no fruit or nuts to add to a pie, my great-grandmother made a scrumptious pie by mixing a load of sugar, eggs, flavoring and a couple of tablespoons of vinegar. It's similar in taste and texture to a coconut pie.

"Delicious!" I pronounced on the return call to him.

"Really?"

"Absolutely. You West Coast people are into healthy food and vegetarian eating, but you didn't invent it."

"What?" He was puzzled.

"These fried pea patties are no different than vegetarian burgers, those patties made from soy beans. This is a vegetarian sausage pattie made from peas."

Even that child of the land once known for its milk and honey, but given hostage now to sushi and soy, had to agree. Just think: Our people invented vegetarian food over a hundred years before it popped up anywhere else.

Southern vegetarian. Who would have ever imagined such a thing?

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should). Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.