Did everyone have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year? Good! I enjoyed both, thank you … except for one thing: I’m a Texan through and through, and no red-blooded Texan can let New Year’s Day pass without
I’m speaking, of course, about black-eyed peas.
No one in the American South escapes childhood without becoming painfully aware black-eyed peas are a mandatory part of the New Year’s Day meal. I say “painfully” because I would rather eat dirt than the black-eyed peas grown in it — and I’m not alone in that sentiment. Nevertheless, no matter what else is on the New Year’s Day menu, the cook had better sneak black-eyed peas into the mix somewhere or the whole year will head straight for hell on the handbasket express.
|Notice the pure evil in those beady little black eyes.
According to legend, that moment occurred in early 1864 as General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union troops ran roughshod over every square inch of ground from Atlanta to the sea. As if the situation weren’t dire enough for the Confederacy, the Yankees “confiscated” (read “stole”) every edible scrap they could get their hands on, leaving behind only things they considered livestock feed: black-eyed peas, greens, and corn. For Lord only knows what reason, they also left the salt pork, although they made off with every other kind of meat they could scavenge.
Little did Sherman and his men know that by abandoning the black-eyed peas, they abandoned an excellent source of calcium, folate, protein, fiber, and vitamin A, among other nutrients. (That is the only nice thing I will ever say about the vile vegetable.)
|Here — look at the pretty picture of cornbread.
It'll settle your stomach.
Thus, a tradition was born, dangit.
According to southern lore, black-eyed peas, greens, pork, and cornbread each symbolize a hope for the future (or a reminder of the “just shut up and eat it” principle):
- Black-eyed peas are for prosperity, because they swell when cooked. Some also say the peas represent coins. Folks who want to get technical about their prosperity eat one pea for each day of the coming year, although for the life of me I can’t figure out who has the patience to count out 365 black-eyed peas per serving.
- Greens (collard, turnip, or mustard) bring money, because they’re the color of dollar bills. In addition to eating cooked greens, some folks hang uncooked stalks from the ceiling in order to attract prosperity. To my way of thinking, that habit just means one more thing to dust.
- Pork symbolizes forward progress, because pigs root forward when they forage.
- Cornbread symbolizes gold. It also does an excellent job of soaking up pot likker — the liquid left after greens are cooked — which is considered a delicacy and aphrodisiac. In addition, if you crumble enough cornbread into a serving of black-eyed peas, you’ll never know the peas are there.
A Pot of Good Stuff with a Couple of Black-eyed Peas Thrown in So I’m Not Singlehandedly Responsible for the End of Civilization as We Know it
1 large onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups fresh or frozen black-eyed peas
2 lbs. smoked ham hock, large, meaty ham bone, or enormous slab of ham (the more meat, the less chance a black-eyed pea will creep into your portion)
½ tsp. kosher or sea salt (or to taste)
Ground black pepper to taste
¼ tsp. allspice
2 tsp. Tabasco or other hot-pepper sauce (use more or less, to taste—I use about half a bottle)
4 cups chicken stock
Additional chicken stock or water, as necessary
1. In a large stock pot, fry bacon until crisp. Remove and set aside.
2. Sauté onion, celery, and garlic in bacon grease until tender.
3. Add remaining ingredients, plus crumbled bacon, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 30 mins. to 1 hour or until tender. (There’s a fine line between tender and mushy. For me, that line is before the peas are in the pot. You’ll have to determine the texture you prefer on your own.)
No one has to force me to eat collard or turnip greens on New Year’s Day — or any other day. I’ve always enjoyed them. (Psst: The secret to great greens is vinegar, but you didn’t hear that from me.)
Always serve greens with black-eyed peas. Always, because this is where finesse comes into play: If you ladle greens on top of the black-eyed peas, you can eat your fill of greens and then push away from the table, pat your stomach, and announce “I can’t eat another bite!” before you’ve reached the
Collard, Turnip, or Mustard Greens with Salt Pork
6 strips of bacon
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, chopped
5 cups water
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
½ tsp. dried red pepper flakes
1 piece salt pork, sliced, or 2 meaty ham hocks (or both)
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and ground black pepper to taste
1. Thoroughly wash leaves and remove any woody stalks and center veins. (Small stems and veins are okay.) Tear leaves into large pieces or cut into strips.
2. In a large stock pot, fry bacon until crisp. Remove and set aside.
3. Sauté onion and garlic in bacon grease until tender.
4. Add tomatoes and meat, plus the crumbled bacon. Pour in water and vinegar and bring to a simmer.
5. Add greens, tamping them down so the water covers them.
6. Cover and simmer until tender — about 1½ to 3 hours, depending on type of greens. Turnip and collard greens require 1½ to 2 hours; mustard greens may take as long as 3 hours.
Her short story “The Second-Best Ranger in Texas” won the Peacemaker Award for Best Western Short Fiction. Her novel Prodigal Gun won the EPIC Award for Historical Romance and is the only western historical romance ever to final for a Peacemaker in a book-length category.
Visit her hideout on the web at KathleenRiceAdams.com.