This is the story of how the black eyed pea transformed from lowly cow fodder to good luck on New Year’s Day.
Gain Prosperity From Your Plate
Let’s set the scene from my growing up years.
It’s January 1st.
The frost on the windows indicates that it’s the prime time for warm, yummy, comfort foods.
On New Year’s Day this always meant sweet and simple things, like hot chocolate, fresh cookies, and ham.
But there’s one dish that sticks out to me, though, as I survey the table.
Black eyed peas?
My dad says “you have to eat them on new year’s day for good luck” and offers me a spoonful.
Wow, ok. I don’t want to miss out on that goodness.
But now as an adult, I question, “How could a black eyed pea bring me good luck?”.
Well, my friends, let’s delve into the history of how this simple food gained their respected status.
A History Lesson
Hold onto your hats for this one; a black eyed pea isn’t actually a pea!
Botanically they are a bean, and while beans and peas are both legumes, there are many distinctions between the two.
This fun fact is only scratching the surface.
Black eyed peas gained their popularity and reputation during the Civil War.
Up until this point, black eyed peas were thought of as lowly and garbage chow, only fit to be eaten by animals.
That’s why their alternate name is the cowpea. However, everything changed when the Confederates lost all of their food sources. The only thing left was black eyed peas and the soldiers survived off of them through the winter.
Thus their importance to the south and prestige for being considered “lucky”.
Today, eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day is carried on for two reasons: tradition and superstition.
In the same way that children are nice all year so Santa Claus won’t put coal in their Christmas stockings.
It’s a cultural custom that brings the fun of classic celebration to the hope of a prosperous year to come.
If you want to add this custom to your bag of holiday traditions, check out my recipe for a black eyed pea and corn salad.
- 2 1/2 cups cooked black-eyed peas
- 2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
- 1 cup rice, cooked
- 6 green onions thinly sliced
- 2–3 fresh jalapeños, minced
- 1⁄4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon unsulphured dark molasses
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- kosher salt
- In a large bowl, combine black-eyed peas, corn, rice, green onions, and jalapenos.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients.
- Pour them over the black-eyed pea mixture.
- Stir together.
- Taste and adjust seasoning with salt as needed.
- Refrigerate until serving time.