New Year’s Traditions- Pass the Collard Greens
Gotta Have Collard Greens and Black-eyed Peas
I grew up in South Carolina, with typical Southern New Year’s traditions. On New Year’s Day we ate collard greens cooked with fatback, for greenback (dollars) and black-eyed peas for coins. We had fried hog jowl and cornbread. There was Grandma’s pepper sauce, our version of Tabasco peppers in vinegar, that we put on the greens and peas. Of course you had to have chunks of raw onion too. Vinnie, a dear African American woman, took care of my sister and me while our parents worked shift work in the cotton mills. She introduced rice into the New Year’s meal. She said it represented pennies, and pennies make dollars. I really liked the addition of the rice and continue to include it in my meal each New Year’s. (I included easy recipes for the food at the end.)
Cooking the Collards, a Ritual of Love
Vinnie always prepared our collard greens. I think she spent two days doing this. She washed the greens thoroughly. Then she took paper towel, and wiped each leaf, one by one, back and front. After all the collard leaves were clean, she would take a couple leaves, lay them on top of each other, roll them like a tortilla wrap, then slice the rounds in ¼ inch slices. Next was the cooking. This took several hours, because collards are probably the toughest leaves of all the greens commonly eaten in the South. Vinnie made our collard greens every year even after we got old enough to take care of ourselves. She prepared our collards until she passed away, then her daughter-in-law Ella Mae, who worked in the mill with my mom made them. Ella Mae made my mom’s greens every year until she too passed away. I’m sure my mom thinks about these two strong women every year when she prepares and cooks her collards.
Our Little Family
Whereas my mom’s brothers and sisters and all the cousins were often at our house for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, New Years was usually just our small nuclear family. There were just the four of us, Dad, Mom, my younger sister Christy, and me. Most years my parents were off work. We’d watch New Year’s Eve festivities on TV. Then New Year’s Day we’d watch the Rose Parade on TV, and Dad would watch football in the afternoon. Another really important aspect of our family traditions is that we never ever washed clothes on this day. Superstition dictated that to wash clothes on New Year’s would wash away one in your family. My mom strictly observed this prohibition. This may have originated with Vinnie. I remember she said you don’t wash clothes on New Year’s or on Labor Day.
A few years ago, the first time I was stationed in San Antonio, I went to see A Night in Old Vienna, performed by the San Antonio Symphony. I took an elderly friend with me. I drove her home on the South side of town. I guess the clock struck midnight while I was on the road back home. Fireworks started going off everywhere! Dancing displays were on the right of me, the left, in front, and behind. Some were fairly close, and some far in the distance. I’ve seen fantastic fireworks displays in many places, including Europe, but this experience remains my most memorable.
Continuing New Year's Traditions
My folks are still in S.C. My brother Devon lives with me in San Antonio. Some years we watched the fireworks from Six Flags in the distance through the trees in our backyard. Other years we drive a few miles, and park in a store parking lot near Six Flags for a good view of the fireworks. We used to watch the ball drop in Times Square with Anderson Cooper, but decided we were over that. We often watch Dr. Who all day on BBC on New Year’s. We all agreed years ago that we were past the whole New Year’s resolutions. We’ve learned to lie to ourselves less and less over the years.
We always have collards, black-eyed peas, rice, and cornbread on New Year’s Day. We gave up on trying to find hog jowls in San Antonio. A couple years we fried up salt pork, which was close to fatback, another Southern thing we grew up with. Now we just have bacon. We usually make Hoppin John with our leftover greens, peas and rice. And so it goes, embracing New Year’s much the same as we did when we were children. We diligently eat the traditional meal, and never ever wash clothes.
Recipes for Traditional New Year's Dinner
Easy recipes and instructions for collards, black-eyed peas, rice pilaf, cornbread and bacon
- 1 2-lb bag shredded triple-washed collard greens
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1-2 teaspoons mineral salt
- Coconut oil or bacon drippings
- Pour broth into 12-qt stock pot.
- Add collards and sprinkle with salt. Add oil or drippings.
- Cover and cook on medium-high for 20 minutes. Stir. Add more broth if needed.
- Cover and reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook for about 30 minutes. Check for desired done-ness. The collards will change color from bright green to a darker, less green-looking color when done.
- 1 ½ lbs dried black-eyed peas
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 2-4 cubes frozen ginger, or 1 generous squirt of refrigerated tube ginger
- Coconut oil or bacon drippings
- Pick out any dark or spotty peas, and any rocks or dirt.
- Rinse peas and transfer to a large stainless bowl. Add about 8 cups of water and 1 tablespoon baking soda. The soda is supposed to make the peas easier to digest.
- Soak 8-12 hours, adding more water if needed.
- Drain and rinse peas and transfer to a 5 quart crockpot.
- Add water to cover one inch past the top of the peas.
- Add salt, ginger, and oil or drippings. The ginger is also supposed to make the peas easier to digest, and less likely to make you gassy.
- Cook on low 8-10 hours.
- 1 cup Uncle Ben’s long grain converted rice
- 2 cups medium grain rice, such as Hindoe or Calrose
- 5 cups water
- 1/3 cup small, thin pasta
- ¼ cup coconut or olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Chicken bouillon powder or paste
- Prepare rice pilaf similar to Rice-a-Roni. Get oil hot in skillet. Add pasta. When starting to brown, add butter. Cook until pasta is browned. Don’t add the butter too soon, because it will burn before the pasta is browned.
- Add rice, water, and about one heaping tablespoon of chicken bouillon. Cover and cook on high for 5 minutes. Rice should be boiling. Stir well and re-cover.
- Reduce heat to medium, and cook covered for 20 minutes, no peeking.
- Check rice for done-ness. Water should be absorbed.
- ¼ cup oil (melt if solid)
- 2 cups Aunt Jemima’s Self-Rising Yellow Corn Meal Mix
- 1 ½ cups milk or buttermilk
- 1 egg, beaten
- Pre-heat oven to 425° F.
- Coat 8” square baking pan with 1 tablespoon of the oil.
- Combine corn meal, milk, and egg, mixing well to combine.
- Add liquid oil and mix in well.
- Pour into greased pan. Bake 20-25 minutes.
- 1 lb bacon
- Pre-heat oven to 400° F.
- Cover 11” x 13” pan with foil. Place flat rack in pan if you have one.
- Place bacon slices on rack in pan, whole slices, or cut in half if you prefer. It took me 2 batches to cook a pound of bacon.
- Bake for 10 minutes. Check for desired done-ness.
© 2010 rmcrayne