Whippoorwill peas--Identification

steeletm(NC)August 9, 2004

My father has been growing several varieties of cowpeas and at least three types of whippoorwill peas in his garden in eastern Oklahoma for over fifty years. Some of these came originally from Arkansas through family members; others were purchased at country feed stores.. In reading the descriptions of whippoorwills in the 2003 SSE book, I'm not sure about the varieties. The three different seed colors that are dominant are:

1) Tan with brown speckles. 6-12 per pod. He thinks they are a cross of the next two but from the descriptions in SSE it would seem these are standard whippoorwills,

2) Solid tan. 10-16 peas per pod. He calls these "Improved," though I'm not sure what they are,

3) Black w/ grayish white (or white) speckles. Smaller peas with square ends; heavily crowded in the pods. He can't remember who gave these to him but it has probably been fifty or more years ago and I suspect they were from some of my family around Clinton, Arkansas. We call them Steele's Whippoorwills.

All grow on compact bushes 18"-2 feet high though I remember some bushes larger than that when I was a kid.

The pods are all thin and pointed and tan in color when mature.

My father also grows many types of crowders, cream peas, and other cowpeas. My parents are in their 80's and 90's and live almost entirely from their garden. The reason he has whippoorwills is because of the frequent droughts in Oklahoma == they survive and bear under extreme drought conditions.

This year I raised all three and they all came true to type.

Any help in identifying these would be appreciated.

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gardenlad(6b KY)

Type one is, as I understand it, the standard. The ones in my collection come from a family that has grown them continuously since 1820. When mature, my pods turn yellow on one side and a blotchy purple on the other

I've never seen a solid tan called Whippoorwill.

The third ones sound more like a varient of calico crowders than Whippoorwill.

One problem with cowpeas is that there are a great many local names for the same varieties, and these names often duplicate other varieties. That is, a local name for a particular cowpea might be Johnny Jump Up. But somewhere else they call that same variety Red Rover. Meanwhile, somewhere else a totally different variety is also called Red Rover.

That might be the case with your Steele's Whippoorwills.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2004 at 9:28PM
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Thanks. My father insists the solid tan ones are "improved." I think he must have purchased them at a local feed store and they had a sign that said Improved. All of them taste like whippoorwills (to me whippoorwills have a distinctive flavor), drought tolerance, seed shape and growth habit.

I agree about the different names of cowpeas especially whippoorwills. I have only seen them canned once or twice years ago and have never seen them frozen or sold fresh so I doubt that there is much of a commercial market and standardized names.

The Steele's Whippoorwills are from our family for example but I can't find the original source. Maybe they are calico crowders but they look like whippoorwills and have the flavor and size of whippoorwills. We always categorized them as whippoorwills.

My mother has looked for years for a pure white crowder similar to those grown by her family in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. I've spent many dollars and hours chasing down the white crowder that she remembers all to no avail.
If you know of a source for white crowders (not cream or Tennessee White) I would love to find some that she remembers before she passes on (she is 93).

Thanks for the information.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2004 at 9:52PM
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The White Whipporwill is a common pea here in North Alabama. Its flavor is much better than average. The funny thing is that most of the commercially available seed in this area are of varieties like Pink Eye Purple Hull, etc. If you want the White Whipporwills, you have to find a local seed saver.

I've grown the brown speckled whipporwill peas. They are small seed on a productive plant and will make a crop on almost no rainfall.

There are lots of other "cowpea" varieties available but most of them are weak in the flavor department. I'll stick with some of the old fashioned types. My supper last night was cornbread and a bowl of White Whipporwill peas. It was delicious!


    Bookmark   August 17, 2004 at 5:32PM
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Thanks. I've never had white whippoorwills but would love some seed. My family has saved the black-seeded, brown seeded and brown seeded with speckled varieties because we enjoyed the taste and because they were so drought tolerant.
You are right about the taste of many cowpeas. I have exprimented around with other commercially available cowpeas and have often been more disappointed than not. Many seem to have been bred specifically for machine harvest rather than taste.

My mother is still looking for a tasty white crowder she remembers from her youth. I've tried several sources as I have said but none seem to tickle my mother's memory cells. Maybe they were white whippoorwills. I'll ask her next time she calls.



    Bookmark   August 17, 2004 at 9:14PM
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gardenlad(6b KY)


If you want to try the White Whippoorwill, Baker Creek carries it in its catalog. WWW.rareseeds.com.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2004 at 7:01AM
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Thanks. I'll give them a try. Several of you have asked for seeds. I will gladly send them with the caveat that I have small quantities to give or trade so you may only get two or three dozen seeds. Just don't want to raise expectations and not be able to fulfill them.


    Bookmark   August 18, 2004 at 11:51AM
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These can still be found around Russellville, Arkansas. The communities north and west of there: Mill Creek, Pleasant View, Bramlett Hill, Augsburg, London, Piney Creek, Dover, Nogo, Hector and many more grow White, Pink, Tan+, etc crowders, "purple hulls", Whipporwill and the regular pintos and runner beans as a common staple. I bet a pleasant day's trip through the Ozarks north of Claskville or Russellville would net many kinds of open pollinated peas and beans (and more, like the Black Diamond watermelon,)

    Bookmark   August 9, 2008 at 12:39PM
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Just an update to this thread that Sandhill has quite a selection of cowpeas now. I sent them seed of the White Whipporwill and of the old brown speckled whipporwill which they have in the catalog.

Look for White Whipporwill and Brown Whipporwill in the cowpea section. The Brown Whipporwill is currently NOT in bold so look close.

Sandhill Preservation

Steeltm, if you are still around, the 'tasty white crowder' you mention was most likely "White Sugar Crowder" which you can find a few references to on the net. I'm looking for seed.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2010 at 10:42AM
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