Deep South USA Tradition: Blackeyed Peas and Greens

Blackeyed peas and greens cooking on my stovetop

Nothing tastes better!
Nothing tastes better! | Source

Why eat blackeyed peas and greens?



Growing up in the Deep South of the USA, I've always been accustomed to eating blackeyed peas and greens (usually mixed turnip and mustard greens, sometimes with added collard greens) on New Year's Day. I recall my grandmother telling me this meal would bring good luck and prosperity during the coming year. As a child I didn't question her statement. Besides, I absolutely loved blackeyed peas, greens and the scrumptious cornbread that accompanied them.

It wasn't until mid-adulthood that I wondered about this practice and did a bit of research to find out the why the tradition began. It seems this southern tradition didn't originate in the southern United States at all!

In fact, centuries before the custom began here, Jewish peoples (Sephardic and Israeli Jews) ate blackeyed peas, among other foods, during the Jewish New Year as symbols of good luck. When Sephardic Jews immigrated to the American state of Georgia in the early 18th century, they brought the custom along with them.

You guessed it! We southerners "borrowed" the tradition from our new neighbors. The dishes got a bit of dressing up by southern cooks, who (apart from vegetarians and vegans) can't seem to cook vegetables without adding pork and, often, sugar. The peas, cooked in water with salt, pepper, and diced onions, got an addition of bacon, ham, hog jowls or fatback to impart that "down-home" southern flavor.

I don't eat pork, so I leave out that ingredient. Salt, pepper, onions, a bit of chopped celery and red bell pepper, plus a pinch of garlic powder make my dish of New Year peas quite flavorful and "down-home" enough for me, thank you. Greens cooked slowly seasoned only with salt and pepper taste delicious. A few chopped turnip roots may be added to bump up the flavor. Purists in the Deep South call for red-hot sauce to be eaten with greens, but I gave up the hot sauce a few years back along with the heartburn it engendered.

I round out the New Year's Day meal with thin skillet-fried cornbread patties. These are made by pouring boiling water over stone-ground cornmeal that has salt and baking powder mixed thoroughly into it. The hot water swells the meal into a mush. When it cools sufficiently to handle (hurried along by putting the bowl in the refrigerator for about fifteen minutes), I wet my hands--just as my grandmother did--so I can handle the cornmeal mixture without it sticking to me.

I shape small flat patties that brown quickly in a skillet with oil barely covering its bottom surface. My preferred oil is extra virgin olive oil, so I keep the burner on medium heat. After flipping each patty and letting the second side brown, I lower the burner heat to let the middle of the skillet cornbread cook. I never time this step, but can tell if the patties are ready by pressing them with a spatula. If no mush oozes out, they're good to go. Once done, they're placed on several layers of paper toweling so any excess oil will drain.

Mmm...these are good! They're terrific whether eaten while still warm or leftover and cold. (They make good snacks if any last until the next day.) In fact, I can't allow myself to cook these delicious little skillet cornbread patties very often because I'll eat too many and gain weight.

Our New Year's Day meal is ready. I'm not superstitious, but I've been keeping this ritual for well over half a century now. It's a part of who I am, so why should I stop? I certainly don't think my luck will be bad in the upcoming year if I don't eat the traditional New Year's Day meal, but why should I miss out on such a delicious dinner? This is really good eating, no dessert needed, just iced tea with lemon in a big glass. For those who sampled all the sweets on the sideboard during holiday feasts, this meal of peas, greens and cornbread pampers the over-indulged palate.

By the way, you needn't wait for New Year's Day to enjoy blackeyed peas, greens and cornbread. This meal tastes wonderful year-round.





Skillet cornbread patties--good enough to make you fight over the last one!
Skillet cornbread patties--good enough to make you fight over the last one! | Source

What's Your New Year's Meal?


Does your part of the world have a special meal that's traditional for New Year's Day? If your background is German or Polish, you may partake of herring, which symbolizes a bountiful catch. Other nationalities choose a different fish, the symbol of fertility.

The Spanish custom of eating twelve grapes as the clock is chiming midnight is another food tradition for New Year's. Each grape symbolizes one month in the coming year, and one must eat all twelve grapes before the clock stops striking. If a grape tastes sweet, that month will be good; if sour, it will be a bad month.

Lentils, like our southern blackeyed peas, are another food enjoyed by many cultures for luck and prosperity because they are round like coins. Sauerkraut with pork marks the beginning of a new year in a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition. In fact, many cultures serve pork for New Year's Day. (I wonder what vegetarians or vegans in those cultures eat instead.)

Many Asian countries serve soba noodles (long noodles) for the New Year meal, to symbolize long life. Included in the tradition is to not let a noodle break before it's inside one's mouth.

In Mediterranean countries, pomegranates eaten at the New Year are associated with abundance and fertility.

The Irish enjoy green cabbage--the color of money--in hopes of a prosperous year.

It's an old custom in Scotland that the first visitor to one's home in the new year is expected to bring a cake--either shortbread or dark fruitcake. In return, the guest is given food and drink.

If you eat a special food on New Year's Day, it is likely the result of your family heritage. If you observe such a cultural tradition, whether for good luck, prosperity, or (fill in the blank), please share it with readers in the comments section.

And to everyone...I wish you good eating and a wonderful new year!



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© 2011 Jaye Denman

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Comments 19 comments

JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 23 months ago from Deep South, USA Author

Marcy - Black-eyed peas and greens (collards in my kitchen) make great eating, whether for tradition or just for dinner. The trick is not to use all the fat our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, etc. used to flavor the peas and greens. A light use of onions and seasonings brings out the flavors without obscuring them. Cornbread goes so well with that duo.

Happy New Year! Jaye

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Randy - If your mom is still cooking New Year's dinner for you at age 93, either tradition or good genes is working well for her! May she have many more new years.

While eating traditional foods may not have made us wealthy, at least we are still around to enjoy them this year!

Happy New Year! Jaye


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 23 months ago from Southern Georgia

I've been having blackeyed peas cooked with hog jowls, greens, and cornbread at my Mom's--she's 93 now--house every New Year's Day for all 64 of my years. I shudder to think how broke and unhappy I'd be if I didn't. :P Of course, no one but Dad ever ate the jowls as far as I know. Perhaps that was my mistake. maybe I'll try a small bite of jowl this year and see if Mom was telling the truth. Like Marcy, I'll scarf up on some greens!

Happy New Year, Jaye!! :)


Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy Goodfleisch 23 months ago from Planet Earth

I love me some Blackeyed Peas & Greens! I grew up eating that combination, because of many trips to see my mother's family in the South. Great memories - and a great New Year's Day tradition, too.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 2 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thank you, Mary. My family heritage is a hodge-podge of nationalities, but my maternal grandmother (my mom's adoptive mother), was part French. She grew up practicing the cultural traditions of south Louisiana and rural south Mississippi when she was young, passed them along to Mom and, thus, to Mom's family.

My grandmother was superstitious and would never have foregone cooking the requisite blackeyed peas, greens and cornbread for New Year's. What you learn as a small child tends to stick, so I've continued the custom all my life (though, unlike her, I don't expect the food to affect my life or finances during the new year).

Jaye


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 2 years ago from New York

So many traditions and what a great place for us to share them Jaye. Your history woven in with the dish make this a super serving of hub!

Voted up, useful, and interesting.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 2 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thank you, Lisa. It is southern comfort food at its best as well as a tradition for January 1. I'll be enjoying the blackeyed peas/greens/cornbread menu in a couple of days. Happy New Year and Peace to you as well....JAYE


LKMore01 profile image

LKMore01 2 years ago

Thank you for sharing this delicious reminder of good old -fashioned Southern comfort food. My brother-in-law who has lived in the South his entire life has prepared black-eyed peas, cornbread, greens and so many more fantastic meals like the recipes you mentioned. Happy New Year, Jaye. Peace to you always.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 3 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Thanks, IslandBites...Glad you enjoyed it! Jaye


IslandBites profile image

IslandBites 3 years ago from Puerto Rico

Nice hub!


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 4 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

2besure...Thanks for the read, the vote and the tweet. Be sure and add corn patties to the menu next time you have black-eyed peas and greens!

Jaye


2besure profile image

2besure 4 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

I was born and raised in NY, but my Mom was from Virginia. black-eyed peas and green was a New Years tradition as well. The corn patties seem like a great addition to the dish. Didn't know the tradition was from Jewish culture. I learned something new. Voted up, tweeted!


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 4 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Good to meet you, too. (Billybuc's hubs are a great place to meet people with similar outlooks about life.)

This is a delicious meal, and you don't have to wait for New Year's to cook and enjoy it. That's just the very southern tradition in which I grew up.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Jaye


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

I met you on billybuc's hub today. This sounds like a wonderful meal!


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

The details of your veg spaghetti recipe are making my mouth water. (I knew I shouldn't have skipped lunch!) I will try it tonight since I have the ingredients on hand.

If you like the flavor of corn, you might like cornbread, and my skillet bread recipe is very easy!

Cheers to you, A.H., and your wife! JAYE


attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 5 years ago from Australia

That's the toughest question anyone has ever asked me. I'll have to refer that one to my wife as my forays into the kitchen are very limited. When i cook the vegie spag' i soften up the onions in a little water then add red and green peppers, carrots, peas, (green ones), corn, broccoli, cauliflower and mushrooms. Then the sauce, Paul Newman's would fit nicely. Then mix in the spag and pour the wine. Lovely! My wife says that they do have it here but we don't ourselves. We add garlic and curry powder to the spag, but no salt. Cheers


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Hi, A.H. Your quip about "...who threw the punches with such small fists" made me laugh. Actually, the dark "eye" of the blackeyed pea does kind of look like a shiner! Another name for the blackeyed pea is "cowpea" (not sure why), but they may not grow in your part of the world under either name.

Your veg spaghetti sounds great. I'll have to try that method.

If, by "those funny shaped things", you mean the skillet cornbread patties, I made another batch of them yesterday to go with a stockpot of veg soup. My son is still visiting, so it's easy to blame that on him, but the truth is I really like skillet cornbread, too. In fact, the leftovers are usually eaten cold as a snack. Cornbread is such a southern U.S. food....Do you have bread made from cornmeal in Australia?

Glad you stopped by....JAYE


attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 5 years ago from Australia

Hi Jaye, with a great wife who cooks wonderful food and a well trained daughter still living at home my forays into the kitchen are limited. Now with my lack of culinary skills i don't think i've ever come across black eyed peas, so i'll have to make further inquiries on this subject, ie who threw the punches with such small fists. My wife is a vegetarian, not a strict one, but she can't stomach meat except for bacon, mincemeat or sausages. I only have a small amount of meat these days and i often eat off the veggie menu as they have to put more effort into the dish. I love pumpkin Masala at out local Indian restaurant. I also cook a lovely veg' spagegiti. I just cut up every veg' available, soften them up in a little water, add a jar of tomato paste and mix in the pasta. We add prime mince at other times and it's a nice healthy, tasty meal. Those funny shaped things look nice too. Cheers from your Aussie mate.


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 5 years ago from Deep South, USA Author

Give the cornbread "recipe" a try, Peter. I can almost guarantee you will like it. (Please let me know.)

There were three patties left over from dinner last evening. When I opened the fridge later to get one for a late-night snack,I discovered only two in the container. My son had gotten there first. He said, "I just love cornbread made like this, Mom", echoing my own sentiments exactly.

Thanks for stopping by, and for your comments. Happy New Year to you! JAYE


Peter Allison profile image

Peter Allison 5 years ago from Alameda, CA

Jaye, this is a great hub for imparting the history of the tradition, and the recipe with your personal twist on it! Greens and beans are a staple of mine but what I'm personally interesting in trying ASAP is the cornbread recipe!

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