As long as I can remember, New Year’s Day meant black-eyed peas. It also meant ham and cornbread, because that’s why my family always ate with black-eyed peas. The peas were for good luck, they told me.
When we moved to Boston fifteen years ago, I went to the local supermarket in Charlestown to buy some black-eyed peas. I searched the dried beans, I searched the canned beans — no luck. Finally, I asked the store manager if they carried them.
“Shu-ah (which is Boston for “sure”),” he said, “they’re in the ethnic section.
Thank God for Goya.
This morning I did a little surfing to find out why black-eyed peas on New Year’s? I found three explanations.
The first — from a guy in Florida, I think — said the dish promised prosperity: the peas represented coins and the collard greens (which he cooked alongside) represented folding money.
The second — from a farmer in Arkansas — said the role the peas played in crop rotation put nitrogen back in the soil and enriched it for the coming crop.
The third — from the deep South — said troops from the North raided the camps of the Southern soldiers one New Year’s Eve and all they had were black-eyed peas.
When I come home from work tonight I will start soaking the dried beans to get ready for our New Year’s party on Sunday afternoon. Since the house will be filled, mostly, with folks who did not grow up in a pea-eating tradition, I’m going to fix them three ways (one, I suppose, for each story): traditionally, with some ham, garlic, and a little sugar — and cornbread on the side; as a variation on “Chile Macho,” a recipe from my mother (a can of green chiles, a can of Ro-tel tomatoes, one diced onion, two cups of cooked black-eyed peas, 2 T vinegar, Salt, and sugar); and as Akkras, a West African bean fritter (2 cups soaked — but not cooked — peas, 1 chopped onion, 1 fresh red chile seeded and chopped — all put in the food processor — and oil for frying).
One way or another, everyone will get a taste of good fortune.
PS — I sent some of you an invitation to be a member of this blog. I didn’t realize the catch was you had to creat a blog of your own. I didn’t mean to create any obligations. Sorry.