Why do we eat Black-Eyed Peas on New Year's day? In the Southern United States, eating black-eyed peas or Hoppin' John (a traditional soul food dish) on New Year's Day is thought to bring prosperity in the new year. The peas are typically cooked with a pork product for flavoring (such as bacon, fatback, ham bones, ham hocks or hog jowls) and diced onion, and served with a hot chili sauce or a pepper-flavored vinegar. The traditional meal also includes collard, turnip, or mustard greens, and ham. The peas, since they swell when cooked, symbolize prosperity.
There are several legends as to the origin of this custom. Two popular explanations for the South’s association with peas and good luck dates back to the American Civil War. The first is associated with General William T. Sherman’s march of the Union Army to the sea, during which they pillaged the Confederates' food supplies. Stories say peas and salted pork were said to have been left untouched, because of the belief that they were animal food unfit for human consumption. Southerners considered themselves lucky to be left with some supplies to help them survive the winter, and black-eyed peas evolved into a representation of good luck. There are even those who believe in eating one pea for every day in the new year
In another Southern tradition, black-eyed peas are a symbol of emancipation for African-Americans who had previously been enslaved, and who after the Civil War were officially freed on New Years Day. Other Southern American traditions point to Jews of Ashkenazi and Sephardic ancestry in Southern cities and plantations.
No matter the reason, Black-Eyed Peas are simply great and a should be included in any traditional New Year’s meal.
Executive chef Pat Mayberry at Southern Elegance Catering