Black Eyed Peas

December 27, 2012

By Raleigh-Elizabeth.

With the presents all opened and the tree on its last leg, you may think the season of tradition is over. But for those of us down in Dixie, it’s just reaching a fever pitch. We’ve been looking forward to New Year’s since we put down our forks on the 25th. Our mouths are watering. Our skillets are seasoned. Champagne toasts? Party hats? Just pass the black-eyed peas!

For anybody claiming any Southern heritage at all, it’s not so much an ingredient as an institution. You can’t have New Year’s without it. They say the black-eyed pea tradition started on the first day of 1863, when the South rang in the New Year and a new era of emancipation. I’m no culinary historian, but myth or not, I think that’s a wonderful commemoration with which to begin anew.

It’s also just plain delicious.

As an avid pea-hater, our New Year’s “Hoppin John” is still my favorite culinary tradition of the year. This may be because the black-eyed pea is not actually a pea at all but a bean in nominal disguise. And when cooked with sausage, ham, onions, and bacon grease, there’s no meal you could be luckier to eat on January first. (Admittedly, Southerners feel this way about anything cooked with bacon grease, but black-eyed peas in particular.)

I’m partial to Julia Reed’s recipe, which is nearly identical to the one passed down to me in my grandmother’s recipe box. We all have our recipes, cherished and stain-splattered from years of use, and we can’t imagine welcoming a New Year without bowls full, collards on the side, and a square or two of cornbread. If you’re a purist, you’ll even toss a dime into the pot for good luck. The one who finds it is the assured the luckiest year of all.

Whatever your recipe, the fundamentals remain: black-eyed peas, gathered friends and family, and the firm belief that this one meal will guarantee a wonderfully fortunate year.  So far, I’ve always lucked out.

I know that in Spain they indulge in a mouthful of grapes as the clock strikes twelve, and I’ve heard that in Japan, they eat a bowl full of soba at midnight! Yum. Do you indulge in any New Year’s traditions to bring good luck to the year?

Fun New Year’s Eve salad plates from Pottery Barn. I think these would be great year-round! 

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jenna December 27, 2012 at 9:29 am

We live in Raleigh and celebrate the new year this way too! Looking forward to the traditional lunch at my mother in laws!


2 Giulia December 27, 2012 at 9:51 am

yes! here in barcelona the churches and the cathedral’s bells strike twelve and we eat one grape for each ring. i can’t do it at all! i can’t even eat three single grapes that fast, imagine 12! it’s kind of gross but extremely funny. i like to eat M&Ms instead :)
my mom is from italy, so on new year’s day we eat lentils. it’s an old tradition, it means that you’ll be lucky and have money that year.


3 Ann December 27, 2012 at 11:19 am

I’m from Maryland originally and we always had a spicy New Year’s soup with black eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck.


4 Anna December 27, 2012 at 3:20 pm

I’m from Virginia but now I live in Ireland, and I’ve already stocked up on black-eyed peas for New Year’s Day. I think I’d feel panicky if I skipped a year!


5 Kace December 27, 2012 at 9:54 pm

I took my mother to New York City one year to see the ball drop in Times Square and we woke up New Year’s Day in a panic–neither of us had thought to bring a can of black-eyed peas nor knew our way around the city enough to know where to buy one. Luckily, the concierge at the West Side Y where we stayed was kind enough to point us to Sylvia’s “Queen of Soul Food” in Harlem. After a call to verify that they had black-eyed peas, we hopped the subway and made sure we got a good start to the year!


6 Heather December 28, 2012 at 6:50 am

I don’t claim any Southern heritage, but I love to make Hoppin John for New Year’s Day! I like the recipe in Joy (of Cooking).


7 Tina December 28, 2012 at 6:54 am

Yes, half of my husband’s family is from Memphis so he introduced this to me years ago. We even make sure our dogs get a few black eyed peas. Many years back I started making Hoppin’ John…it is sort of a stew with collared greens and ham and I make my husband’s great grandmother’s buttermilk cornbread to go with it. Yummy Good Luck for Us!
Many years ago we decided that in addition to the New Year’s kiss, the new year would be marked with prosperity if we ended the year with a decadent meal. We make a big meal of crab legs and bubbly and I usually buy a fancy cake from the bakery. It’s become such a fun tradition that now we get together with friends and bust through crab legs all night together. :)
Happy New Year!


8 Sunshine December 28, 2012 at 7:09 am

Love that you wrote this post! I just shared my favorite way to do Black-Eyed peas… it’s a little spicy, a can of rotal and cook them with hog jowl! That’s Southern style!


9 Rooster December 28, 2012 at 10:35 pm

In Virginia we like our black eyed peas served with stewed tomatoes and corn bread. Yes it has always been a New Year’s tradition! Yummy yummy enjoy and Happy New Year!!!


10 Summer January 2, 2013 at 8:37 am

Aw, I love this! I dated a Yankee from Connecticut for several years, and I’ll never forget our first new years together when he told me he’d NEVER HEARD OF EATING BLACK EYED PEAS ON NEW YEARS DAY!!! I think my first words after the shock were, “HOW are you still alive?!?!?!?!” :P

Happy new year!


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