Friday, January 01, 2010

OUR TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN NEW YEAR'S DAY MEAL

For as long as I remember, my family has eaten black-eyed peas, hog jowl, and either cabbage or plain ol' spinach on New Year's Day. The question always asked when meeting a family member or friend was, "Did you have some black-eyed peas today?"
One difference in us and the tradition, was that the peas symbolized money to us instead of the greens, but we had both anyway.

Why do we eat these things? Simply put, eating beans and greens, typically a poor man's food, on New Year's Day means you'll eat rich the rest of the new year!

Eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day was always thought to bring prosperity to our Southern home. The peas are typically cooked with a pork product for flavoring (such as bacon, ham bones, fatback, or hog jowl), diced onion, and served with hot sauce.

Judy soaked hers over night in clear water, then picked out the pea hulls, added some pork pieces from the hog-jowl, and cooked them for about 1 hour. They cook much faster than pintos. She added salt to taste, and that's it!

The traditional meal also features cooked cabbage, collard, turnip, or mustard greens, and ham. The peas, since they swell when cooked, symbolize prosperity; the greens symbolize money; the pork, because pigs root forward when foraging, represents positive motion. Some say the peas are coins and the greens dollars, and some even add sweet potatoes to represent gold! Cornbread always accompanies this meal.
I cut up the cabbage and onions and then sliced the hog-jowl. I slice across the thick skin in the opposite direct of my horizontal slices so that the pieces don't curl up while cooking. The real trick is to start them in a cold skillet, but the second and third additions to the hot grease will curl some, but not nearly as much as uncut slices! Click the meat shots to enlarge them enough to see the cross cuts.
Judy puts the cabbage in a little of the pork grease, adds about 2 cups of water, and then adds the cabbage. She salts and sprinkles on Ms. Dash's Hot and Spicy seasoning. When the cabbage cooks down some, she adds in a measure of sugar...do this to taste.

After my cutting and garbage duties were completed, I was back in front of the Capitol One and Rose Bowls!

These "good luck" traditions* supposedly date back to the American Civil War. Union troops, especially in areas targeted by General William Tecumseh Sherman, typically stripped the countryside of all stored food, crops, and livestock, and destroyed whatever they couldn't carry away. At that time, Northerners considered "field peas" or "cow peas" and field corn suitable only for animal fodder, and didn't steal or destroy these humble foods.

The origin of the New Year's meal is not really known, but of course I like this one best, being a Southern man. The truth is, there is a large contingent of Scottish folks living in the south (a third of my genes as well), and their influence brought us things like our "good luck" meal, the "St. Andrew's Cross" in the Confederate Battle Flag (which is square and not the true Confederacy Flag - Stars and Bars), and even "Auld Lang Syne"!
"Auld Lang Syne" is an old Scottish song that was first published by the poet Robert Burns in the 1796 edition of the book, Scots Musical Museum. Burns transcribed it (and made some refinements to the lyrics) after he heard it sung by an old man from the Ayrshire area of Scotland, Burns' homeland. 
It is often remarked that "Auld Lang Syne" is one of the most popular songs that nobody knows the lyrics to. "Auld Lang Syne" literally translates as "old long since" and means "times gone by."
I suppose you can say the South never forgets - its family traditions and heritage anyway! A true educated Southerner knows the war was not about slavery, but about "States Rights", heavy, unfair taxation, and the right to secede. Slavery wasn't an issue in 1861, where 95% of the south was too poor to own anybody! That came along after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
Anyway, Happy New Year everybody...ain't it grand that we have all that bad history behind us!
Last but least, I wanted to mention the cherry liqueur I attempted for the Holidays. I bought fresh cherries, removed the seeds, and put them in a quart fruit jar (Mason Jar). I then added one cup of sugar and poured in a full fifth of 90 proof vodka! I shook the mixture for a couple of days until all the sugar disappeared. On retrospect, I should have made that one and half cups to 2 whole cups. It wasn't sweet enough for Judy's taste. 
Anyway, I put the liquid away in a dark conor place for about 5 weeks. The cherries slowly sank to the bottom of the jar, and I shook the jar about 3 times during that time...mostly to get more cherries to sink.
So, I bought a cheap decanter and added the liquid first, and the spooned in the cherries. It was quite tasty to me, but the cherries weren't very sweet to the taste. More sugar may have done the trick. However, I do love to sip it slowly while cooking...it's very soothing to the throat, and could be mistaken for cough syrup! 
*Other legends hold that the "good luck" meal has its roots in Hebrew traditions. Instructions found in Babylonian, compiled around the year 500, tells Hebrews to include gourds, black-eyed peas, leeks, dates, and either beets or spinach in their new year meals for good luck. 'Course these Hebrews weren't eating any pork and that's just a shame!

5 comments:

Megan Butz said...

Hey Paul, This is really great..I have enjoyed this southern tradition my whole life as well, even though I was not raised in the south. It was always fun explaining to my island friends what everything meant. Thanks for sharing, great photos by the way looks like you might get a job with food network.

Mushy said...

Thanks sweetheart, but this ol' boy doesn't want a job! However, I might work off some of this belly if I did a little more!

So glad you came over...Happy New Year.

FHB said...

Usually we do, but mom forgot it this year at Christmas. And I was up with a gang of Yankees for new years this time, so I didn't get any this year.

FHB said...

Also enjoyed the history here. Happy New Year to you guys too.

Joan said...

I should have tried black-eyed peas when we live in SC. I guess I still could in CA. :)

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