Each year on New Year's Day, no matter how hung over I am, I host a brunch. Continuing a long family tradition, I serve black-eyed peas, collard greens and pork chops. In my family, these foods are considered lucky when you eat them to start off the year. The greens represent dollar bills, and the black-eyed peas symbolize coins. The pork is supposed to be for health, but I've always found that claim rather dubious.
There are other stories explaining why Southerners eat black-eyed peas, greens and pork on New Year's Day. One scenario blames it on the "War Between the States," during which Union soldiers regularly burned crops and raided Southern kitchens. Black-eyed peas were considered livestock feed, so the soldiers ignored fields of them. When they were finished taking or destroying everything they considered edible, Southerners made do with the rejects, which meant black-eyed peas, greens and hog jowls. So, for some Southern families, these foods are served in remembrance of their Confederate ancestors.
Of course, it's not just in the Southern U.S. that people welcome the New Year with these foods. Perhaps that's why Germans ring in the New Year with sauerkraut, while the Danish stew kale and sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar. And it helps explain why traditional New Year's dishes in Italy and Brazil both include lentils, while the Japanese New Year's custom includes sweet black beans called kuro-mame.
But what about the pork? Why are pigs considered healthy or lucky? Supposedly, pigs symbolize progress because they push forward, rooting themselves in the ground before moving. Cubans, Spaniards, Portuguese, Hungarians and Austrians all greet the New Year with a suckling pig.
In my home this New Year's Day, the proper serving procedure involves slicing open the cornbread to insert an obscene amount of butter before drowning said cornbread in juicy black-eyed peas that have been soaked overnight and cooked with fatback or a hog jowl. The greens, cooked with bacon, go on the side with a little vinegar added to taste.
Of course, you don't have to have Confederate ancestors to benefit from traditional Southern New Year's foods. Black-eyed peas, greens and pork are great for a good old-fashioned hangover, no matter where you're from. And considering the state of the economy, starting off the New Year with a little good luck seems like a smart idea. Pass the peas! - Renee Davidson