The Ad Read:  Antique Pea-Sheller

By Robert Seay, U of A Division of Agriculture

First posted on 08-29-2008

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Hidden deep in the classifieds was an ad: “Antique Pea-Sheller.” No price or description was listed, only a phone number. Uncle Clyde, down on a visit from Holts Summit, Mo., caught the ad. An old farm boy from Clay County, he began to reminisce about how every family once grew southern peas and every kid hated the boring task of shelling.

Southern peas owe much of their popularity to the ability to produce well under low-to-moderate fertility conditions. Basically, any family and any field could produce southern peas, thereby insuring a supply of a food high in protein and carbohydrates. In addition, the pea vines were used to feed livestock.

History indicates that, like okra, melons, collard greens and other select vegetables, southern peas originated in Africa. They owe their presence in the United States, more specifically the South, to the social and cultural ties of African-Americans. Low fertility requirements and ease of growing ensured the spread of peas from the Delta to the mountainous regions of the South.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and with many farm families growing southern peas, a variety of shelling methods were developed. Just for fun, try a Web search for “antique pea-sheller,” etc., and be prepared to enjoy some southern history.

To bring you up-to-date, Dr. Teddy Morelock, a plant breeder with the University of Arkansas Department of Horticulture, heads the largest southern pea breeding program in the U.S. About 5,000 genetic lines of southern peas are evaluated each summer. Dr. Morelock works closely with Allen Canning Company in Siloam Springs to develop southern peas that can be easily machine harvested.

Back to the classifieds – from his front-porch chair Grandpa began to smile and suggested that Uncle Clyde read the ad again. Noting the phone prefix being the same as Grandpa’s, Uncle Clyde suggested, “If you know these folks, I’d like to go look at this pea-sheller. I wonder how big it is.”

“Oh, she’ll weigh about 90 pounds,” Grandpa replied. “She?” was Uncle Clyde’s startled reply. “Yeah,” Grandpa answered. “That antique pea-sheller is a nice elderly lady who lives down the road. She runs that ad every fall, and it sure gets attention. I think she shells peas to supplement her Social Security check!” Til’ next week!

For information about raising southern peas, contact your county extension agent. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the U of A Division of Agriculture.