One of my New Years resolutions was to update my blogs more often. What more fitting topic for keeping that resolution than talking about New Years traditions in food.
My mom was over for the holidays and we were working on preparations for our New Year’s dinner. She said we absolutely had to have black-eyed peas. And, there had to be a dime put in the beans when they were served. We’ve always done this and I wondered how the tradition was started.
First off I asked her if she had ever eaten greens as well when growing up in the deep south. We seldom had the greens but I heard the tradition was greens and the peas, the peas representing coins and the greens representing green money. She said she had but since when we were young she didn’t care for greens she didn’t make them.
My husband’s family, being Pennsylvania Dutch, eat pork chops and sauerkraut as their tradition. With mashed potatoes. Yuk. I love my hubbie dearly so I eat this once (and I mean only once) a year for the luck. Since I had never heard of this before marrying him, I am assuming this is a Northern tradition. Oh, and it has to be pork because pigs root FORWARD when eating (which is good luck) as opposed to rooting BACKWARD like chickens. Ok, now that’s just plain strange.
All this talk about traditions launched me on another Google quest – when did the black eyed peas and greens tradition start and was the pork dish only Northern. The first thing I found said the eating of black-eyed peas for luck was generally believed to date back to the Civil War. Originally planted as food for livestock, it became a food staple for slaves in the South. Because of this, the fields of peas were ignored by Northern troops who destroyed or ate other crops. This meant the peas became a reliable and LUCKY food source for Confederates soldiers.
However, as I dug deeper, I found the pea tradition is far older than the Civil War. The tradition of eating black eyed peas for luck at Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is recorded in ancient Babylonian texts. The first Sephardi Jews arrived in the state of Georgia in the 1730s and have lived there ever since. The practice was apparently adopted by non-Jews around the time of the Civil War. Now that’s interesting.
As I delved even deeper, I found out the idea of pigs and foraging for food isn’t only a Pennsylvania Dutch idea. Remember, a typical Southern dinner for luck was greens and peas. The peas, since they swell when cooked, are supposed to symbolize prosperity (or as noted above the, “coins” of money), the greens symbolize green paper money and the pork, like bacon or ham hocks, which are a key ingredient in really good black eyed peas, are there because pigs root forward when foraging, meaning moving ahead. Well gosh durn. Who knew.
I found an article that talked about a possible shortage of sauerkraut because it turns out it’s very healthy. The article noted that eating Sauerkraut on New Year’s Day is an old time Pennsylvania Dutch tradition believed to bring good luck throughout the upcoming year. The traditional meal also includes pork to represent rooting into the New Year. So, that solved the “north vs south” question. It is indeed a Northern tradition.
As we marry and our families and their traditions merge, it’s interesting to see the kinds of dinners we end up preparing to insure we survive the coming year loaded with luck. My oldest son married a lovely girl who’s parents are Mexican and their traditional food is tamales. And my ex-husband, who was from Panama, made sure we ate 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight – all of which had to be consumed by the end of the 12th strike of the clock.
Therefore, if we follow that thinking, in my house, if my kids and their families were all here (which would be wonderful all by itself), we’d have pork, black eyed peas, sauerkraut, greens, tamales, and grapes – and an antacid afterwards. Ah, but we’d be loaded for bear with luck and abundance.
On that note, Happy New Years everyone, and may all your dinners be filled with luck.