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article imageBlack-eyed peas on New Year's Day is sure to keep bad luck away

By Karen Graham     Dec 31, 2014 in Lifestyle
New Year's Eve is being celebrated all over the world today, and there will be lots of parties and bubbly. On the eve of the new year, we will nibble on all sorts of snacks, but on Jan. 1, Southerners will sit down to a meal of black-eyed peas and greens.
The variety of traditional foods associated with New Year's Day around the world is as varied as are the cultures we have. Most often, the special foods are associated with good luck for the coming year, such as eating lentils in Italy.
In many countries, certain foods represent prosperity or at least the hope of a prosperous new year. In Austria, suckling pigs, high in fat are a sign of wealth, and in China, eating dumplings, which look like gold ingots once used for currency, represents hope for an auspicious new year.
In China  dumplings are often eaten on January 1 for prosperity in the coming year.
In China, dumplings are often eaten on January 1 for prosperity in the coming year.
People in the Southeastern region of the United States also have a traditional food, that according to folklore is the first food eaten on New Year's Day. The humble legume, black-eyed peas are always cooked up on Jan. 1, usually with some bacon, ham bones, fatback or pork jowls for flavor.
Add to this some collard greens and maybe corn bread and the meal will surely bring a prosperous start to the new year. One especially good way to fix black-eyed peas is called Hoppin' John. It's a dish that is often served throughout the year, but on New Year's Day ends up having added significance.
Hoppin  John is a concoction of black-eyed peas  rice and pork or ham  along with onions and hot sau...
Hoppin' John is a concoction of black-eyed peas, rice and pork or ham, along with onions and hot sauce.
Hoppin' John and Skippin' Jenny
Black-eyed peas are cooked with rice, along with chopped up ham or bacon and chopped onions and hot sauce. This cooks into a thick dish that is served with collard greens and corn bread. According to tradition, one must eat 365 black-eyed peas to give one luck each day of the year. The collard greens represent money and the corn bread represents gold.
Some cooks add a penny or a dime to the pot while the meal is cooking. The one to find the coin in the bottom of their bowl will be the recipient of the most luck for the coming year unless of course they happen to swallow the coin. But that's another tale for a later time.
As for Skippin' Jenny, well that's easy to explain. Skippin' Jenny is the leftovers from the Hoppin' John that was eaten on New Year's Day. Not only is there a chance of getting double the luck for the coming year, but it shows a touch of frugality. In any case, Southerners know that beans, whatever kind they may be, always taste better the day after they are served.
Why the Civil War is part of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day?
First of all, black-eyed peas are not peas, but a subspecies of the cowpea. The bean is native to West Africa and is now grown around the world. It is a medium-sized bean, pale in color with a black spot. The goat's eye pea, grown in Northern Mexico is often confused with the black-eyed pea.
Black-eyed peas came to the New World sometime in the 17th century in Virginia, more than likely brought in by an African slave. By the 18th century, black-eyed peas were being widely grown in the Carolina's both as a livestock feed and as food for the slave populations. Black-eyed peas remained nothing more than fodder until the Civil War.
In General Sherman s March to the Sea  little was left in the fields  except the black-eyed peas and...
In General Sherman's March to the Sea, little was left in the fields, except the black-eyed peas and field corn, fodder for livestock.
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On November 15, 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman, the Union commander of the Western theater of the war led his troops in the capture of Atlanta. He then proceeded to extend his victory by marching his army across Georgia and the Carolinas. His March to the sea included his infamous "scorched earth" policy, devastating to the South.
Sherman's troops took stored foods, livestock and valuables, burning what they couldn't haul away. Interestingly enough, Northerners didn't consider "field peas," as the black-eyed peas were called or field corn as nothing more than fodder for animals, and left the fields as they were. It was a lucky break for Southerners that these crops were left standing, otherwise, starvation would have been far worse than it was.
Needless to say, the white population in the south learned something from the conflict after all. Black-eyed peas, seasoned with a bit of side meat and greens, along with a big slab of buttered cornbread is delicious. What a great way to start the New Year off right.
More about blackeyed peas, hoppin' Jogn, southern tradition, Civil War, General sherman
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