Black Eyed Peas For New Years Day (and why!)

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If you’re planning on having a traditional Southern New Years Day dinner, go get your black eyed peas now before they sell out! I mentioned this on the Southern Plate Family page and some readers are already reporting not being able to find any. While you’re at it, pick up some collards or turnip greens and don’t forget the ham hocks and fatback!

peas 668_4000x3000The following is from my Hoppin John tutorial but I wanted to tell it again with the black eyed peas in case anyone didn’t know why Southerners eat what we do on New Years Day.

New Year’s day hosts the most important meal of the entire year for Southerners. Deeply rooted in tradition, superstition, and hope for the future, we have definite must have dishes which even those of us who might not be as superstitious as others dare not shirk on this day.

I’ve told this story before, but it certainly bears repeating in reference to this meal. Back in the days of civil war, Union troops swept through the south, confiscating crops and livestock to use as provisions for their troops. Southerners who weren’t off fighting were left with precious little, save for peas and greens. You see, Union soldiers considered “field peas” and greens to be fit only for animal fodder. These dishes became cherished and appreciated as what saved many a family from starvation during those times and the tradition of celebrating these dishes on the new year was born.

There are three things every southerner must eat on New Years day, Black eyed peas, greens, and hog jowl or fatback.Black Eyed peas are said to bring luck in the coming year, with many traditions holding that you must eat at least 365 of them. We never had a number, but the more you ate, the more luck you were supposed to have so Mama always makes plenty!

Fatback is very tough and extremely salty, it looks just like a thick slice of bacon but is more difficult to chew. As one of the cheapest cuts of meat, it rose rapidly in popularity during the depression era of the South. Eating this is said to ensure good health in the coming year and I must say, it is delicious.

Greens can be either turnip, collard, or a mix of greens or a “mess” as we call them. They are said to bring wealth in the new year and as with black eyed peas, the amount of wealth you have is directly proportionate to how much of them you eat! To see my greens tutorial (I just love the pepper sauce recipe), click here.

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I don’t store my dried beans in the plastic bags they come in because I tend to purchase beans and store them a while (I buy in large quantities). Whenever I go to get dried beans, I pick up a couple of bags of each kind we like, which adds up quickly.

I used to store them in the bags but learned the hard way that this is not a good idea as the bags are easily permeated by little critters, especially certain types of buggies who delight in dried beans. Instead, I keep some large mason jars around and pour the bags out as soon as I get home with them. The mason jars look really pretty if you have a country kitchen and although I keep most of them in my pantry you’ll always find a few on shelves or the top of the fridge in arrangements in my kitchen. This is also how I store my popcorn kernels, candies for baking, and many other items. I find it’s not only frugal, but the glass jars are reusable for a number of things indefinitely.

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Sort your dried beans into a bowl.

Sometimes, little stones end up being packaged with the beans. This is just an unavoidable aspect of bean farming and no big deal. What you do to avoid cooking up those stones with your beans (and possibly breaking a guests tooth!) is to pour out a handful at time into your palm and look through them before dumping them into a bowl.

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Now we have to soak our peas.

I prefer the overnight soak method but if you would rather, you can simply cover your peas with water, bring them to boil, then remove them from heat and cover and let soak for one hour.Pour out the soak water and replace with fresh water to cook the peas in until done.

Having said that, I still prefer the overnight soak method, which is what we’re doing here :)

Before going to bed, cover the peas with water, leaving plenty of extra because they will absorb the liquid and expand.

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See how much they expanded overnight? Now pour out this water…

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And let me show you this beautiful bowl I had the peas soaking in…

peas 646_4000x3000It’s Pyrex, of course, a Cinderella bowl, which means it has handles on both sides. This pattern is called “Daisy”. I love how gorgeous and sunshiney it looks. Reminds me of my first trip to Florida when I was five and we stopped at the welcome center for free orange juice.

We thought we were big stuff if folks were on standby just to give us orange juice the moment we crossed over the state line!

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Put drained peas in a large pot.

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Add some type of pork for seasoning.

I am using a big old hunk from our Christmas ham.

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The finest seasoning is a ham bone with a bit of meat still on it but you can also purchase a package of ham hocks for just a few dollars if you need to (I usually pay $2-$3 for four ham hocks). I also keep slices of country ham in bags in my freezer to season beans with in a pinch, works like a charm.

It is possible to make peas or dried beans without using pork as a seasoning but if you want to make real Southern black eyed peas, you’re gonna have to get a pig involved…

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Fill pot with water. Make sure you cover them well because it will boil down over the course of the day and you don’t want your beans to go dry.

Another way of doing this is to cook the beans this exact same way in the slow cooker. With the lid on, you won’t have to worry about it boiling dry during the day or check on it like you do the pot.

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Now we add our seasoning. To read about how I learned to season beans ~giggle~ check out this post on pintos.

You’re going to have to season to your personal taste but I start with a tablespoon of each. Add a tablespoon of salt…

Note: you’ll definitely need to add more salt so be sure and taste it after a few hours of cooking.

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and a tablespoon of pepper…

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A tablespoon of sugar

This is a Southern Granny thing. If your grandmother was a southerner, chances are she told you to do this and we don’t question our granny’s, we just do as we are told with a smile of gratitude and a “yes Ma’am”!

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and add a tablespoon of oil.

(Also a granny thing..)

Bring that to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for a few hours.

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Remove ham, hambone, or ham hock, and shred it.

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Return to pot and stir. Taste to see what seasonings you want to add more of.

Add more salt whether you think it needs it or not because it does, I promise.

Grandmama says “Beans just need a good bit of salt.”

Serve warm. Pour a little of the juice over your cornbread or onto your plate to sop up with your cornbread because this is delicious! The juice is known as “potlikker” or “pot liquor” by the fancy folks.

I read somewhere the Southerners serve pot liquor in cups along side their dishes to dip cornbread in. I’ve never heard of anyone doing this in my life, have you? I’ve heard of folks putting extra juice in a bowl of beans and crumbling cornbread over the top and I’ve also heard of pouring juice over cornbread, but serving it in cups alongside seems a bit too high falootin for my tastes. But hey, maybe I need to get a little more high falootin’ in my life. Maybe I’ll pour m’bean juice in a little custard cup and even hold my pinky out while I dip my cornbread….Naaaaahhh. ~winks~

 

Black Eyed Peas
 
Ingredients
  • 1 Pkg Dried Black Eyed Peas (or field peas, or cow peas) - package size doesn't matter
  • Pork for seasoning: ham hocks, ham bone, or large piece of ham
  • 1 T salt (will need more)
  • 1 T pepper
  • 1 T cooking oil
  • 1 T Sugar
Instructions
  1. Sort through beans to ensure there aren't any stones. Place sorted beans in a large mixing bowl or pot. Completely cover with water (with a few inches extra over the top) and soak overnight. In morning, pour off soaking water and place in pot they're to be cooked in. Add pork for seasoning. Cover with water and several more inches to ensure that peas don't boil dry. Add all other seasonings. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for several hours. Remove ham and shred, place back in pot. Continue cooking until peas are tender. Total cooking time will take at least three to four hours.

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A member of our Southern Plate Family sent me a fascinating and detailed message via Facebook today regarding New Years traditions and I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did! Special thanks to Melissa!

The six major categories of New Year’s foods are grapes, greens, legumes, pork, fish and cakes. Here is what they represent:

Grapes: In Spain people eat twelve grapes at midnight—one grape for each stroke of the clock. This dates back to 1909, when grape growers in the Alicante region of Spain initiated the practice to take care of a grape surplus. The idea stuck, spreading to Portugal as well as former Spanish and Portuguese colonies such as Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador, and Peru. Each grape represents a different month, so if for instance the third grape is a bit sour, March might be a rocky month. For most, the goal is to swallow all the grapes before the last stroke of midnight!

Cooked Greens: Cooked greens, including cabbage, collards, kale, and chard, are consumed at New Year’s in different countries for a simple reason — their green leaves look like folded money, and are symbolic of economic fortune. The Danish eat stewed kale sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, the Germans consume sauerkraut (cabbage) while in the southern United States, collards are the green of choice. It’s widely believed that the more greens one eats the larger one’s fortune next year.

Legumes: These include beans, peas, and lentils and are also symbolic of money. Their small, seedlike appearance resembles coins that swell when cooked so they are consumed with financial rewards in mind. In the Southern United States, it’s traditional to eat black-eyed peas or cowpeas in a dish called hoppin’ john. There are even those who believe in eating one pea for every day in the new year. This all traces back to the legend that during the Civil War, the town of Vicksburg ran out of food while under attack. The residents fortunately discovered black-eyed peas and the legume was thereafter considered lucky.

Pork: The custom of eating pork on New Year’s is based on the idea that pigs symbolize progress. The animal pushes forward, rooting itself in the ground before moving. Different pork dishes such as pig’s feet are enjoyed in Sweden while Germans feast on roast pork and sausages. Pork is also consumed in Italy and the United States, where thanks to its rich fat content, it signifies wealth and prosperity.

Fish: Fish is a very logical choice for the New Year’s table. According to Mark Kurlansky, author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, cod has been a popular feast food since the Middle Ages. He compares it to turkey on Thanksgiving. The reason? Long before refrigeration and modern transportation, cod could be preserved and transported allowing it to reach the Mediterranean and even as far as North Africa and the Caribbean. Some people have been known to place a few fish scales in their wallets for good luck.

Cakes: Cakes and other baked goods are commonly served from Christmas to New Year’s around the world, with a special emphasis placed on round or ring-shaped items, a shape symbolizing the eternal, the neverending and continuity. In certain cultures, it’s customary to hide a special trinket or coin inside the cake. Whoever finds the trinket is said to be the recipient of good luck throughout the coming year. Cakes aren’t always round. In Scotland, where New Year’s is called Hogmanay, there is a tradition called “first footing,” in which the first person to enter a home after the new year determines what kind of year the residents will have. The “first footer” often brings symbolic gifts like coal to keep the house warm or baked goods such as shortbread, oat cakes, and a fruit caked called black bun, to make sure the household always has food.

In many cultures to have food on the table AT MIDNIGHT is symbolic of bringing good fortune into the home at the beginning of the New Year so that the home is guaranteed success and prosperity all throughout the coming year.

What NOT to Eat: Lobster, for instance, is a bad idea because they move backwards and could therefore lead to setbacks. Chicken is also discouraged because the bird scratches backwards, which could cause regret or dwelling on the past. Another theory warns against eating any winged fowl because good luck could fly away.

Now I am not a believer in “luck” of any kind…being a Christian, I put my faith and hope in God for my and my family’s needs to be met and believe that nothing is by accident. However, it is FUN to explore the origins of food and tradition, so I hope you enjoyed this little tidbit of info!

From One Foodie to Another…Many Blessings in the New Year!

Melissa K. Hand
Southern Plate Fan, Chef & Fellow Foodie

“Attitude to me is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than success, than what other people think, say or do. It is more important than appearance, gift, or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes.”

– Charles Swindoll. Submit your quote here.

Also of interest:

How to cook a ham and get AT LEAST Four meals out of it

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Comments

  1. Elizabeth (Liz) says

    Happy New year Christy to you and yours. Being born and raised in NORTH Carolina and living on and off in the country all of the foods you are talking about we ate. I may not live back home but I cook like I do.I see my family very often. Thanks for taking me back in time, smile.All of those foods will be on my table New Years day.God bless. Liz

  2. cyndy says

    My Grandmother always added a silver dollar to her pot of collards on New Years Day – supposed to bring financial good luck in the coming year. Leftover blackeyed peas were mixed with rice to make Hoppin John for a future meal.

  3. Lynn says

    At my Grandmama’s table all of the adults always had a mug of pot likker on the side. Just to drink! I thought it was the most awful thing ever as a kid. But now I get it! My Grandmama was so known for her collards that her preacher spoke about them at her funereal service! I love that memory. She was a special lady loved by all. Miss her!

  4. Anne says

    Thank you so much Christy for posting this tutorial! I have always shyed away from cooking dried peas because they never seem to turn out like I wanted them to. Your tutorial gave me the confidence to try again for New Year’s Day.. Thanks to you I had a delicious meal for my family for New Year’s Day! My dried black-eyed peas with ham bone was the best ever!

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