According to legendary Southern food researcher John Egerton’s Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, In History, black-eyed peas are associated with a “mystical and mythical power to bring good luck.” As for collard greens, they’re green like money and will ensure a financially prosperous new year.
Linda Pelaccio, who hosts the culinary radio show “A Taste of the Past” says that round foods resemble coins and money. Eat these symbolic foods, many believe, for a financially prosperous new year. On the contrary, don’t eat round foods; you could have a year of bad luck! If you eat peas with greens and cornbread, that’s even more auspicious, with green being the color of money and cornbread calling to mind gold.
There’s evidence that people ate black-eyed peas as a part of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, for hundreds of years.
But the tradition of cooking black-eyed peas with rice is African in origin and spread throughout the South, especially in the Carolinas, in the form of pilaus or rice dishes simmered for a long time with chicken or shrimp. When black-eyed peas were added to the pilau, it became Hoppin’ John.
Some possible Reasons
- A ransacked Confederate army, surviving on the only food left untouched during the war: black-eyed peas. According to legend, General Sherman didn’t bother burning the crops because they were such a lowly food source, basically only good for the livestock.
- Enslaved people on the day when the Emancipation Proclamation finally set them free. It was New Year’s, and they were free by law, but with nothing to eat except black-eyed peas.
- The people of Vicksburg, Mississippi, managed to survive a two-month Civil War siege on black-eyed peas.
- Southern farmers. Winter crops were sparse, though black-eyed peas were a cheap and non-perishable option that could get them through the season.
The black-eyed pea or black-eyed bean is a legume grown around the world for its medium-sized, edible bean. It is a subspecies of the cowpea, an Old World plant domesticated in Africa, and is sometimes simply called a cowpea.
Collard is a group of certain loose-leafed cultivars of Brassica oleracea, the same species as many common vegetables including cabbage and broccoli. The plants are grown as a food crop for their large, dark-green, edible leaves, which are cooked and eaten as vegetables, mainly in Zambia, Kashmir, Brazil, Portugal, Zimbabwe, South Africa, the American South, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, the Balkans, and northern Spain. Collard greens have been eaten for at least 2,000 years, with evidence showing that the ancient Greeks cultivated several types of plants.
- John Egerton explores southern food in over 200 restaurants in 11 Southern states, describing each establishment’s specialties and recounting his conversations with owners, cooks, waiters, and customers. Includes more than 150 regional recipes. [Back]
- Culinary historian Linda Pelaccio takes a journey through the history of food. Take a dive into food cultures through history, from ancient Mesopotamia and imperial China to the grazing tables and deli counters of today. Tune in as Linda, along with a guest list of culinary chroniclers and enthusiasts, explores the lively links between food cultures of the present and past. [Back]
- Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is one of Judaism’s holiest days. Meaning “head of the year” or “first of the year,” the festival begins on the first day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, which falls during September or October. Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world and marks the beginning of the Days of Awe, a 10-day period of introspection and repentance that culminates in the Yom Kippur holiday, also known as the Day of Atonement. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the two “High Holy Days” in the Jewish religion. [Back]
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