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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Lowcountry Hoppin’ John
2 quarts chicken or pork stock, unsalted
1 cup Sea Island Red Peas, soaked in a pot of water in the refrigerator overnight
1 1/2 cups medium dice onions
1 cup medium dice peeled carrots
1 1/2 cups medium dice celery
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 fresh bay leaf
10 thyme sprigs
1/2 jalapeño, chopped
Kosher salt, optional
4 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup Carolina Gold Rice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
Red Pea Gravy
Reserved 1 cup cooked red peas
Reserved 2 cups cooking liquid from the peas
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Sliced chives or scallions for garnish
- Bring the stock to a simmer in a small pot. Drain the peas and add to the stock, along with all of the remaining ingredients except the salt. Cook the peas, partially covered, over low heat until they are soft, about 1 hour. Season to taste with salt, if desired. (The peas can be cooked ahead and refrigerated in their liquid for up to 3 days; reheat, covered, over low heat before proceeding.)
- Drain the peas, reserving their cooking liquid, and measure out 1-cup peas and 2 cups liquid for the gravy; return the rest of the peas and liquid to the pot and keep warm.
- About 45 minutes before the peas are cooked, preheat the oven to 300°F.
- Bring the water, salt, and cayenne pepper to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the rice, stir once, and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the rice is al dente, about 15 minutes.
- Drain the rice in a sieve and rinse under cold water. Spread the rice out on a rimmed baking sheet. Dry the rice in the oven, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Scatter the butter evenly over the rice and continue to dry it, stirring every few minutes, for about 5 minutes longer. All excess moisture should have evaporated and the grains should be dry and separate.
- Put the 1 cup peas, 2 cups cooking liquid, and the butter in a blender and blend on high until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add cider vinegar to taste. (The gravy can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept in a covered container in the refrigerator; reheat, covered, over the lowest possible heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.)
- Use a slotted spoon to transfer the peas to a large serving bowl. Add the rice and carefully toss the rice and peas together. Pour the gravy over them, sprinkle with chives or scallions, and serve.
Written by Vicki Hayman, MS, University of Wyoming Extension Community Vitality and Health Educator
- United States Department of Agriculture