Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I once made a frantic late night trip to the grocery store on New Year’s Eve for a can of black eyed peas. Knowing it would be closed the next day, I left a friend’s party, drove to the nearest grocery store, and came back to the party clutching my can of peas. They remained in my purse for the night, and I happily cracked them open the next day and dug in. Why, you ask, would I go to such great lengths for a can of legumes? For the first eighteen years of my life, I would come downstairs on January 1st to find my mother waiting for me to take my first bite of black eyed peas.
A Southern tradition, the eating of black eyed peas on New Year’s Day is said to guarantee good luck for the entire year. I have heard a few “rationalizations” for this legend, one being that the peas resemble coins, and eating them would guarantee wealth. Another story is that during the War, the city of Vicksburg (VA) ran out of food, and would have starved if it wasn’t for a crop of black eyed peas. Whatever the lucky significance, I have never gone a year without having at least one bite of black eyed peas, and I don’t intend to, ever.
Collard greens are another Southern food often consumed on New Year’s Day. Its vibrant green color symbolizes wealth and good fortune. Usually Southern greens are prepared with lots of bacon and pork fat. In uncharacteristic fashion, I omitted the pork and cooked them the healthier way. This way, I can drink the "pot likker," or the liquid that results from the cooked greens. It is usually eaten with cornbread crumbled into it, but I like it in a coffee mug. It's like green V-8. Whichever way they're prepared, it's essential that they're served with a vinegar pepper sauce not to be confused with hot pepper sauce. Vinegar pepper sauce is a slender jar of clearish liquid with twenty or so small green peppers stuffed into it. Although I’ve eaten my share of collard greens, for some reason my family has always prepared black eyed peas instead. I've decided to do both for a double dose of luck. You can't have too much, you know.
In other parts of the world, such as Germany, Austria, Sweden, Spain, Cuba, and Hungary, pork is considered lucky if consumed on New Year’s Day. According to Bon Appetit, pork is said to symbolize progress because of the animal’s behavior, always rooting and pushing forward with its snout. What do you know? I barbequed two butts a few days ago. I hope leftovers are just as lucky.
3 slices bacon, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 pounds black-eyed peas, soaked overnight
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes
3 cups water
Hot cooked rice
In a large saucepan, fry the bacon over moderate heat till almost crisp and pour off all but about a little of the grease. Add the onion, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the peas, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, and water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer till the peas are tender but not mushy, about 1 hour. Drain the peas. Serve them in small bowls over mounds of hot rice.
2 bunches fresh collard greens or kale
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, sliced paper thin
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons salt
Remove the tougher, woody stalks from the collard leaves. Smaller stems are okay. Wash the leaves and cut them into half-inch-wide strips. Put the collards in a large stock pot and cover with cool water. Add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil and cook for at least 2 hours.