In need of some luck for the new year? Look no further than your nearest grocery store. Eating black-eyed peas, a Southern tradition that goes back hundreds of years, could leave you feeling lucky.
New Year’s Traditions
Eating black-eyed peas for New Year’s has long been an African-American and Southern tradition. It signifies luck or prosperity, one of several New Year’s foods that are associated with good fortune. Along with eating black-eyed peas, another tradition is to have cabbage, or greens (turnip, mustard, collard, or cabbage) which also brings good luck and prosperity. The peas are symbolic of pennies or coins, and a coin is sometimes added to the pot or left under the dinner bowls. Greens are supposed to add to the wealth since they are the color of money or represent greenbacks. If served with cornbread, this represents gold.
Symbol of Luck
There are several different thoughts on why black-eyed peas have come to symbolize good luck. In America, the prevailing folklore dates back to the Civil War era, when black-eyed peas, also known as field peas, were used to feed grazing cattle. During the Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi in the late spring of 1863, the town was cut off from all food supplies for nearly two months. The people were close to starvation and resorted to eating the crops previously reserved for feeding their livestock. If it weren’t for the lowly “cowpeas” (as they’re also known) many people wouldn’t have survived. Lucky or resourceful, those folks created one tasty tradition!
Hoppin’ John to Skippin Jenny
One of the more popular ways of cooking black-eyed peas is the dish called “Hoppin’ John.” Hoppin’ John is one of those classic Southern dishes that comes with as many versions, stories, and flavors as there are cooks. In essence, Hoppin’ John is rice, black-eyed peas, smoked pork, and chopped onions. On the day-after New Year’s Day, leftover Hoppin’ John is called “Skippin’ Jenny,” and further demonstrates one’s frugality, bringing a hope for an even better chance of prosperity in the New Year.
Count Your Peas
One tradition common in the Southern USA is that each person at the meal should leave three peas on their plate to ensure that the New Year will be filled with luck, fortune, and romance. Another tradition holds that counting the number of peas in a serving predicts the amount of luck or wealth that the person will have in the coming year.
Black-eyed peas are a source of plant protein. They also contain vital nutrients, such as B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, potassium, and magnesium. In addition, they are rich in soluble fiber. A half-cup serving has only 80 calories.
Pea or Bean?
Technically, black-eyed peas are beans, not peas. These legumes get their name from their appearance. They are cream-colored with a black spec that resembles an eye. You can find heirloom varieties, which can have brown, red, pink, or green “eyes” instead of black.
Purchasing and Storing
Black-eyed peas are available dried, canned, and frozen. Choose dried beans or canned beans with low or no sodium added. Opt for dried beans that are firm, dry, clean, and uniform in color. Store dried beans at room temperature, in a closed container to protect from moisture and pests. Store canned beans at room temperature and be sure to use them before the date on the can.
Preparation and Cooking
Soaking is not essential for black-eyed peas, but cooking time can be shortened if they get a quick soak in hot water. Place dried peas in a pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes. Remove pot from heat and allow to stand for 60-90 minutes. Drain water and replace with fresh, cold water for cooking –if you skipped the hot-soaking step, just rinse and add cold water. Place on stove and bring to a boil in a pot with a lid. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, tilting the lid slightly to allow steam to escape, and leave to cook for up to an hour, or until tender.
Variety of Options
One cup of dry black-eyed peas makes about the equivalent of 3 cups of cooked peas. Cooked black-eyed peas can be used in bean salads, soups, stews, casseroles, and chili. They can also be served as a side dish.
Usher in good luck for 2018 by enjoying the true riches of nutrition and versatility on your plate!