NEW YEAR’S TRADITION: BLACK-EYED PEAS
Updated: Dec 29, 2020
No, we’re not talking about the musical group from the 90s and early 2000s. Black eyed peas, the legumes, which originally made their way to North America by way of West Africa have a history of bringing good luck to those who eat them. The most well-known history of black-eyed peas as an omen of prosperity dates back to the Civil War, specifically, the March to the Sea led by Major General William Tecumseh Sherman. This military campaign took place from mid-November through the end of December when the Union Army left the captured city of Atlanta with the goal of capturing Savannah, Georgia. General Sherman and his men pillaged the Confederates’ food supplies, but the black-eyed peas, or cowpeas, and pork were left behind as they were considered “trash food” and unfit for human or animal consumption. The Southerners survived the remainder of the winter off black-eyed peas and pork left behind.
Another tradition denoting the use of black-eyed peas traces back to slaves. It is said that plantation owners assigned slaves less responsibilities in the time between Christmas and New Years. Historians have noted that slaves most likely used the last day of their “break” to cook a larger meal consisting of black-eyed peas, collard greens, and cornbread, all of which had and continue to have special meanings. The legumes themselves represent coins, or prosperity. The collard greens represent dollar bills and the cornbread represents gold. Today, the dish is well-known as Hoppin’ Johns.
These special beans also have Talmudic roots. Although the Jewish calendar and the more widely followed Gregorian calendar do not line up in regards to New Years, Sephardic tradition, going as far back as the Middle Ages, documents the serving of black-eyed peas on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year celebrated in September.
● 1 pound (453grams) black eyed peas
● 4 -5 thick bacon slices , chopped
● 1 cup smoked sausage or turkey , diced
● 1 large onion , diced
● 1 stalk celery , diced
● 2-3 teaspoons minced garlic
● 1 Jalapenos , minced (optional) replace with cayenne pepper
● 2 teaspoons fresh thyme , minced
● 1 bay leaf
● 1-2 teaspoons creole seasoning
● 7-8 cups chicken broth
● 2 cups or more Collard greens (or substitute with kale)
● Salt and pepper to taste
Rinse dry black-eyed pea beans and pick through and discard any foreign object. (I did not have to do this because I used the package beans,). Add beans to a large pot, covering with 3-4 inches of cold water. Cover and let sit for about 2-3 hours.
In a large, heavy sauté pan, sauté chopped bacon until brown and crispy about 4-5 minutes, then add sausage sauté for about 2-3 more minutes. Remove bacon and sausage mixture, set aside.
Throw in the onions, celery, garlic, jalapenos, thyme, and bay leaf and sauté for about 3-5 minutes, until onions are wilted and aromatic.
Then pour in the chicken broth or water.
Drain the soaked beans, rinse, and place the beans in the pot. Season with creole seasoning and salt to taste. Mix and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes.
Throw in the collard greens, and bacon and sausage into the pot, continue cooking for another 10 minutes or more, stirring occasionally, or until beans are tender and slightly thickened to your desire.
Add more stock or water if the mixture becomes dry and thick, the texture of the beans should be thick, somewhat creamy but not watery.
Remove the bay leaves.
Taste and adjust for seasonings with pepper, creole seasoning and salt if needed. Serve over cooked rice and garnish with green onion.