Here we go again, hopefully

Published 5:36 pm Tuesday, January 3, 2012

It may be a few days late and, certainly, many dollars short, but, for what it’s worth, “Happy New Year, folks.”

My sister called on New Year’s Day and shamed me as she said that she had waited up for the new year to come while I had not. I used the excuse that I had to work on New Year’s Day and she did not. If you recall, New Year’s Day was Sunday and that’s my one day out of the week to work. You probably wish you had it so good!

In addition to shaming me with the news that I had “wimped out” on New Year’s Eve, she also said that “even Momma and Daddy stayed up for the big year’s change.” I found out that they had been at a kinfolk’s house playing canasta as the peach dropped in Atlanta and the clock struck midnight in Times Square in New York City.

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When my parents got home around 1:30 in the morning (how can I hang with that?), they had the energy to put on a couple of pounds of dried black-eyed peas in a slow cooker with plenty of hog jowl on the side. They were planning for that traditional New Year’s Day lunch of black-eyed peas and greens.

The black-eyed peas cooked slowly and deliciously through their attendance at church the next morning and, in addition, they had pulled a pack of bacon-grease flavored mustard for their greens. A cousin, who spends time in North Carolina, had dropped off a few sweet potatoes and they were put in the oven before going to church.

When they came back home, they had a lunch, or “dinner,” as we call it here in the South, of black-eyed peas, mustard, sweet potatoes, and cornbread. My daddy had just one wish: “that everyone in the country could enjoy such a wonderful lunch.” I say, “Amen!”

Ever wonder about that traditional New Year’s Day lunch of black-eyed peas and greens, both flavored by some kind of pork, plus cornbread. Just what does it mean and how did it begin?

You’ve probably heard of the symbolism. The black-eyed peas and greens are symbolic of good luck and prosperity in the new year. The black-eyed peas stand in for the coins and the greens for the folding money. The peas are soaked and swell, so that is indicative of prosperity. The cornbread, by the way, has been added to symbolize gold.

Why cooked in pork? You’d have to know hogs for this, but the nose of a hog is one of its most important and sensitive appendages and a hog uses its nose to root. There is no scientific book written on the subject, so far as I know, but the hog always roots in a forward direction. Hence, the new year will move in a forward direction if the food is flavored by pork.

There are some other interesting aspects regarding the black-eyed peas. One involves the Jewish faith and its New Year celebration of Rosh Hashanah. I certainly don’t know enough to say too much about this use of black-eyed peas, but at least two communities of Jews hold a celebratory meal that includes black-eyed peas.

This tradition was brought to the United States and to our own state of Georgia by Sephardic Jews in the 1730s. It’s not unusual for people who aren’t familiar or a part of a culture to adopt some of the foods or customs, particularly when they are as delicious as well-prepared peas.

The most common strain of thinking as to the popularity of the black-eye pea and good fortune comes from the Civil War and the infamous General William T. Sherman. It seems that when he and his army were laying wasted to just about everything in its path, they encountered black-eyed peas.

It was their lack of sense (my opinion, of course) that led them to think that certain kinds of foods, like peas, were good for nothing but the livestock. So, they destroyed most everything, but left the black-eyed peas. Literally, southerners had nothing to eat, but the peas that Sherman’s army had left behind. In a way, they were blessings and a tradition was born that lives today.

Along the way, greens were added, along with cornbread and sweet tea if one really wants to be southern. Tradition has it that the black-eyed peas are the most important. Greens without the peas won’t work.

Here are a few more points of interest regarding the tradition.

There are 365 days in a year and the safe amount of peas to eat to insure the prosperity desired must be at least 365 peas.

If one really wants a guarantee of wealth and health, add some stewed tomatoes with the peas.

Just before serving the meal, add a shiny penny or dime to the dish of peas and, as they are spooned out, whoever gets the coin will receive the greatest prosperity. That is, unless, he or she swallows the coin!

I don’t know if you were able to have a meal with black-eyed peas and collards, turnips, or mustard, plus some cornbread, but if you did not, I still think that 2012 can be a good year for you. And, here is hoping that is the case!