The Story of New Year’s Day and Black Eyed Peas

The American South

New Year’s Day in Alabama: black-eyed peas, ham hock, and pepper sauce

Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is thought to bring prosperity in the Southern United States. The peas are typically cooked with a pork product for flavoring (such as bacon, ham bones, fatback, or hog jowl), diced onion, and served with a hot chili sauce or a pepper-flavored vinegar.

The traditional meal also features collard, turnip, or mustard greens, and ham. The peas, since they swell when cooked, symbolize prosperity; the greens symbolize money; the pork, because pigs root forward when foraging, represents positive motion. Cornbread also often accompanies this meal.

These “good luck” traditions supposedly date back to the American Civil War. Union troops, especially in areas targeted by General William Tecumseh Sherman, typically stripped the countryside of all stored food, crops, and livestock, and destroyed whatever they couldn’t carry away. At that time, Northerners considered “field peas” and field corn suitable only for animal fodder, and didn’t steal or destroy these humble foods.

Worldwide

The “good luck” traditions of eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day are recorded in the Babylonian Talmud (compiled ~500 CE), Horayot 12A: “Abaye [d. 339 CE] said, now that you have established that good-luck symbols avail, you should make it a habit to see Qara (bottle gourd), Rubiya (black-eyed peas, Arabic Lubiya), Kartei (leeks), Silka (either beets or spinach), and Tamrei (dates) on your table on the New Year.” A parallel text in Kritot 5B states that one should eat these symbols of good luck. The accepted custom (Shulhan Aruh Orah Hayim 583:1, 16th century, the standard code of Jewish law and practice) is to eat the symbols. This custom is followed by Sephardi and Israeli Jews to this day. In the United States, the first Sephardi Jews arrived in Georgia in the 1730s and have lived there continuously since. The Jewish practice was apparently adopted by non-Jews around the time of the Civil War. -(Wikepedia)

*The black-eyed pea, also called black-eyed bean or “mulato gelatto” is a subspecies of the cowpea, grown around the world for its medium-sized edible bean.

Watch How to Prepare Black Eyed Peas

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