What’s the food you absolutely must eat on New Year’s Day? If you don’t answer “black-eyed peas” then you must not be from around here. Pretty much every Southerner I know insists on making and eating a big pot of them every New Year’s, to bring good luck to themselves and their entire household.
Why? Well, in most families, it’s because our grandmas and mothers said to. Other cultures also consider black-eyed peas a lucky food, so the idea isn’t completely original to the American South.
But apparently, the U.S. black-eyed pea tradition goes back more than a century, probably back to the Civil War era. One story I’ve heard is that when the Northern soldiers laid waste to Southern crops after the war, they left the black-eyed pea fields alone, possibly because they didn’t know you could eat them. So impoverished Southerners relied more heavily on the “lucky” left-behind peas, and eventually they became associated with luck and prosperity.
Ideally, black-eyed peas are the first food you eat in the New Year – so if you’re celebrating at home, you may want to have them ready for post-midnight snacking. If you really want to double down on luck, you should serve them with greens (to represent money) and cornbread (representing gold.)
If you’re new to the tradition, let me suggest a couple of shortcuts:
Sylvia’s greens: If you don’t feel up to cleaning and cooking fresh greens after a big New Year’s Eve out, let the self-proclaimed “Queen of Soul Food” do it for you. Available in our grocery section, these canned greens (mixed, turnip, or mustard greens are) are based on recipes from Sylvia’s, the legendary soul food restaurant in Harlem.
Bayou Magic Cajun Black-Eyed Peas: This seasoning mix contains all the spices and herbs you need to create an authentic, Louisiana-flavored dish.