This old African landrace was found among the seed stalls in the farmers’ market
at Palapye, Botswana. Smaller than most American blackeye peas, whiter in color, and
creamier in texture when cooked, we were immediately charmed by this unusual variety
for several reasons. It produces snowy white flowers against dark green leaves, and the 7
to 8 inch pods turn rich golden yellow when ripe. The entire plant exhibits ornamental
qualities that make it perfect for a porch trellis, especially since the leaves turn bright
yellow after a light frost. In Africa the young leaves and pods are cooked as greens, and
with roughly 14 seeds per pod, it is easy to use most parts of the plant as food. The shelly
peas are buttery soft and the dry peas cook like Arborio rice.
As an experiment we have been growing a number of cowpeas from far Southern
Africa with the idea of learning what may do well north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Many
American cowpeas (like Running Conch) are difficult to grow in our region, which is
roughly 40 degrees North Latitude. However, the Botswana varieties are as easy to grow
as Whippoorwill, at least in southeastern Pennsylvania where our gardens are located.
For the gardener looking for the perfect cowpea for space-saving pole-bean culture, here
is your answer!