What’s in Your New Year’s Dinner?
I hope your 2014 is a prosperous and happy one and I hope the superstitious among you started it off right when you sat down for your New Year’s dinner!
One of my big goals every January 1st is to make sure that I eat two critical foods in at least one meal that day: black-eyed peas and collard greens. I always eat them as separate sides to some meat, but there are recipes that combine the two.
I like black-eyed peas. Most people I know who were born and raised in the south either like them or are mostly willing to tolerate them.
On the other hand, I do not generally care for collards all that much. They usually have an acidic taste and are rarely cooked in a manner that eliminates it successfully; unfortunately, some who do otherwise manage to mask the green’s natural acidity then replace it with some spicy pepper flavor that I dislike almost as much as the acid.
As I’ve said before, I’m generally not a superstitious person. The number 13 does not bother me, even when the 13th of the month happens to fall on a Friday. I don’t slip into panic when I see a black cat in the distance. And if there’s a ladder in my path, my efforts to walk around stem from commonsense avoidance of a skull fracture caused by falling objects rather than a general fear of future bad luck.
But some family traditions just mean more than others, and so I entertain the suggestions of my well-meaning relatives when they remind me that January 1st is for black-eyed peas and collards.
In fact, my mom told me the other day that if I had any laundry to do, I should do it it on New Year’s Eve or wait until January 2nd. Apparently, washing clothes — or dishes, for that matter — is akin to “washing loved ones out of your life,” according to one superstition I’d never heard of. My mom then informed me that her mother refused even to sweep the house on New Year’s Day, fearing that she’d be sweeping loved ones to Kingdom Come in the coming year.
I cynically suggested that this particular Old Wive’s Tale may have come into practice because of overworked housewives who hoped for a well-deserved day off. I was then informed that my grandmother wouldn’t even allow my grandfather to sweep, either, shooting that idea down.
Black-Eyed Peas and Collards
These two famous New Year’s dinner ingredients mean different things to different families, I’ve come to realize.
As I grew up, I was told that black-eyed peas meant health and collard greens meant money or prosperity. Given that black-eyed peas are often cooked in some amount of pork fat to help the flavor, the health argument may be a difficult to win.
Other families, I’ve learned were focused solely on the prosperity angle: black-eyed peas meant coins and collard greens meant cash. This, I suspect, may well have been a ploy to force people to eat more collards: of the two, they’re the tougher sell on most people’s plates.
Wikipedia suggests that black-eyed peas as a lucky food dates back to the Babylonian Talmud, in which Jewish families ate them at Rosh Hshana, the Jewish New Year. There is also speculation that the practice became more widespread in the United States following the Civil War, when Union troops had taken pretty much everything of value, leaving some perceived “inferior” foods like black-eyed peas for the war-weary former Confederates to live on. Black-eyed peas, then, became a “lucky” food because those hungry Southerners felt lucky to have them.
There’s also a dish known as “Hoppin’ John,” that often makes its way to the plate on New Year’s Day. Hoppin’ John is based on a Caribbean concoction and features a variety of beans and peas — often field peas and black-eyed peas, onions and bacon — often cooked in rice with other spices added for good measure.
Like I said, I’m not generally given to superstition, but once a year, I figure it doesn’t hurt to have these two ingredients.
Better safe than sorry, right?
Do you have any New Year’s Dinner traditions? Are their special foods you eat every January 1st…just in case?