(AKA "Calico Crowder" and "Hereford Peas")
Polecat Peas are an American heirloom cowpea that can be traced back to the early 1800s. Polecats are believed to have been brought to America by African slaves in the 18th century. Their cultivation and use by white Americans spread across the South quickly. By the time of the Civil War Confederate troops were dependent upon dried cowpeas as a staple.
The Polecat Pea is an aggressive climbing plant. In my garden they have scaled nine-foot sunflowers and are still reaching for height. In the South Polecats were often planted alongside tall flint corn to provide a natural trellis. The long pods can be eaten green and are considered to be a fine-tasting cowpea. Polecats can also be dried. The seeds are small, cream-colored with a small beige eye. The close packing of the pods with seeds is characteristic and is shared with other cowpeas that are called "Crowders."
Pre-Civil War varieties of cowpeas such as the Polecat are rare outside of a few Southern gardens and organizations such as Seed Savers. New varieties have been selected for disease resistance, large pea size and for dwarfism. It seems that "taste" along with the Confederacy lost the war.
These Polecat Peas were grown organically in my garden in the Valley of the Moon.