Start that stove top and get to brewing some good luck for the New Year! Eating blackeye peas on New Year’s Day is a long-standing southern tradition, with recipes passed from parents to children in the hopes of bringing on a bit of luck for the upcoming year. My mother has made this recipe for as long as I can remember, and now it is my turn to bring this tradition to my new family and our friends this season. Though this year is the first time I have prepared this dish by myself, I know I will get the recipe perfect because my taste-buds have an excellent memory!
The tradition of blackeye peas and greens at New Years has slowly migrated throughout the US. There are so many theories about where, when, why and how the tradition began in the US. Some claim it is a carry-over of the diaspora of Sephardic Jews to the US in the 1700s who celebrated Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) with a blackeye pea dish. Others believe it originates from the Civil War era when all that was left to nourish southerners were the blackeye pea crops and stores, which were ignored by Northern troops as “animal fodder”. Perhaps the tradition stems from the fact that peas expand when cooked – a metaphor for a hope that future prosperity will grow for the consumer. Or, maybe people were just trying to eat a simple dish to display a sense of humility and thereby invite some good luck from the powers-that-be.
People disagree on how many blackeye peas need to be eaten in order to gain good fortune. Some eat 365 peas for 365 days of good luck, and believe that if you eat more or less you will have bad luck for that number of days. Some leave behind one pea for a friend to have some extra luck. In my childhood home, you just had to eat at least a spoonful, even if you did not like blackeye peas, to ensure you had your “fix” of luck for that year.
Whatever the origins and history of eating blackeye peas, there is one irrefutable aspect of the tradition. Blackeye peas are to be eaten with greens to symbolize wealth (some popular versions are collard, mustard and turnip greens) on New Year’s Day.
For a fantastic meal, serve blackeye peas with blackened catfish, macaroni and cheese, and sliced tomatoes.
Here is our family recipe. I hope it brings you luck, or at least some joy to your taste buds this New Year’s Day!
- 2 16oz. bags of fresh and uncooked blackeye peas
- 2/3 c. chopped yellow onion
- 2 clove garlic, minced (optional)
- 3 strips of Applewood smoked, slab bacon (or ham hock)
- 2/3 c. chopped tomato
- Tobasco (~8 dashes)
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- Thoroughly rinse and then soak the blackeye peas for 1 hour (or soak overnight).
- Prepare the ingredients. Chop onion and tomato to about ¼” and mince garlic.
- Brown the strips of bacon on both sides in a pot, then add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent.
- Add the tomatoes and blackeye peas and cover with water. Bring to a boil then turn down to simmer.
- Season the blackeye peas with salt, pepper and Tobasco to taste.
- Allow the blackeye peas to simmer for about 6 hours (if soaked overnight) to 8 hours (if presoaked for only an hour), or until soft. Re-season the blackeye peas with salt, pepper and Tobasco to taste. Remove the bacon prior to serving.
- TIP: Cook the blackeye peas recipe the day before you plan to eat them. Then, reheat prior to serving.