As a child, I was not very excited about the prospects of eating black-eyed peas for New Year’s, but as I got older and started cooking for my own family it was a tradition that I embraced with open arms. It has become one of the meals that Jeffrey and I really enjoy and look forward to eating each year. We cling to our southern roots!
My husband, the history buff, loves his Southern heritage and loves retelling stories of how the Yankees came and burned Atlanta. You would think he was there (Just to be clear, Jeffery hates all wars and isn’t one of those folks who brandish the confederate battle flag). We will chalk it up to all of the field trips he took part in visiting Civil War battlefields.
While I am not a history buff, I was pleased to share with him a story of the origin of eating black-eyed peas on New Years in the South. Growing up, I had heard that you should eat modestly on New Years so you can eat like a king the rest of the year. In other words, you eat modestly for good luck. I recently read an article that offered further explanation. The article said this modest meal was due at least in part to the fact that modest food was what allowed southerner’s to survive when the Union soldiers occupied the South.
According to the story, as Union troops swept through the South during the war, they would confiscate crops and livestock to use as provisions for their troops. Depriving the inhabitants of the Countryside of food was part of Lincoln’s Total War strategy. For the vast majority of Southerners who were not well off, this left very little for them to eat with the exception of “field peas” and greens. The Union troops deemed this food to be worth only for animals. Since they didn’t pillage these foods, they were part of what stood between many families and starvation. After the war, these dishes were celebrated because they had saved many families from perishing. Again, according to these stories, these foods took a place of honor because of their importance as a means of survival.
So as a good Southerner black eyed peas, greens, and fatback are a must. The black eyed peas are said to bring luck. The greens bringing wealth due to the resemblance of money. Finally fatback (a tough, salty bacon like piece of pork) good health. Whether by superstition, tradition, or just because it tastes good you really can’t go wrong with these southern treats. Living behind “enemy lines” as Jeffrey would say, we have come to compromise a bit with our traditions, but we love them none the less. Our meal will consist of black-eyed peas, spinach maria, country ham (imported from Tennessee), sweet potato biscuits, and corn bread. Feel free to stop by for a taste of the South with some mid-western flair.
Happy New Year!
Black Eyed Peas
1 (16-ounce) package dried black-eyed peas (soaked overnight or softened using the quick soak recipe on the bag)
4 cups water
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 (1-pound) ham steak, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, 1 ham hock, or pieces of country ham
4 whole jalapeño peppers (optional)
Bring first 6 ingredients and, if desired, jalapeños to a boil in a Dutch oven; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour or until peas are tender. I cook mine for several hours to insure that they are tender. Remove jalapeno peppers and serve with corn bread.