We have several Holiday traditions that we never fail to observe: a huge batch of cannoli shells are made the day after Thanksgiving (so we can take a platter of freshly stuffed shells to every Holiday party), and everyone opens a present on Christmas Eve (boxes of pajamas so every member of the family looks good in the photos Christmas morning).
It’s easy to see how family traditions are created, they are frequently for fun or convenience, but how does a tradition become regional? I asked myself that question as I was purchasing the ingredients for Black Eyed Peas with Greens and corn bread.
In the South, black eyed peas are traditionally eaten either at midnight New Year’s Eve, or on New Year’s Day to bring luck and prosperity in the coming year. The tradition is said to have begun during the American Civil War. Black eyed peas thrived in the South and were planted as livestock food. Because the peas were considered worthless as food, the crop was ignored while other crops were stolen or burned. Being the only food available, the nourishing pea was an important source of food for survivors of the war. Feeling lucky to have made it through the winter, black eyed peas became valued and synonymous with luck.
With todays’ food abundance, we would rarely think of eating just black eyed peas for a meal, so the tradition has evolved to include greens and corn bread. The peas symbolize coins, the greens represent paper money and the corn bread signifies gold.
Other customs include:
Adding a coin to the pot just before serving; whomever receives the coin will have the best luck for the year.
Eating 365 peas to have luck every day of the year.
Adding stewed tomatoes to the pot is said to assure health and wealth.
There are as many recipes for black eyed peas as there are cooks. Two popular recipes are Hoppin’ John and Texas Caviar. I borrow from both in my recipe and add the greens directly into the dish:
Black Eyed Peas with Greens
Rinse 4 cups of fresh Black Eyed Peas
Dice and cook 6 slices of Bacon in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. Remove the bacon and add:
1 large diced Onion
2 ribs of diced Celery
½ diced Poblano Pepper
1 diced Jalapeno Pepper
½ diced Red Pepper
Salt, Pepper, Herbs de Provence and Smoked Chipotle to taste
Sauté the vegetables until the Onion begins to soften, then add 3 minced Garlic Cloves
4 cups fresh, rinsed Black Eyed Peas
1 14.5 ounce can Stewed Tomatoes
Add just enough Chicken Stock to cover the mixture by 1-2” (6-8 cups)
Cook until the Peas are just beginning to soften
Five minutes before you think the peas will be ready, add two to three handfuls of Arugula and cook until wilted
If you prefer another type of greens, back up the cooking time to allow the greens to be cooked but not mushy
Stir in the reserved Bacon
Taste for seasoning and adjust
Strain off most of the liquid and reserve for another use
You want the mixture to be moist but not soupy
Garnish with chopped Cilantro and sliced Scallions
Put Hot Sauce on the table
My corn bread recipe couldn’t be easier. Start with a good quality mix and add the ingredients called for on the package. Fold in one can of diced Green Chilies and ½ cup of grated Cheddar cheese into the batter. Top with another ½ cup of grated Cheddar cheese and cook according to package directions.
We’ve been in Texas for almost 40 years, but my husband is still an East Coast guy at heart. When he asked about the black eyed peas in the refrigerator, I reminded him that it was lucky to eat black eyed peas on New Year’s Day. He reminded me that we eat corned beef and cabbage (in the form of Reuben sandwiches) on New Year’s Day for luck. Why? Well, that’s another story. I guess it’s going to be a feast New Year’s Day.
No matter what tradition you observe, I wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2019!