New Year’s menus vary among households, but most include black-eyed peas, greens, pork, and cornbread. According to tradition, this meal brings luck, prosperity, and health in the coming year. Some say that the black-eyed peas represent coins, the greens represent paper money, and the cornbread represents gold. Others say the peas are for luck, apparently because General Sherman’s troops left behind the black-eyed peas since they were considered animal food; Confederate families felt lucky to have food to sustain them through the winter. This leaves the pork, usually hog jowl, for health - not sure where that idea came from!
Whether we ate at home or my grandparents’ house, my mother and grandmother made sure to have all the components for a lucky New Year’s Day dinner (or lunch for you Northerners). I didn’t bother to learn how to cook such things as a teenager or in my early twenties. So, you can imagine my first New Year’s Day as a recently-married 22-year-old. I had no idea where to even begin! Instead of attempting to cook everything in our 700-square foot box of an apartment (of which, about 50 was the kitchen), my dear husband and I went to a restaurant called “Po’ Folks” - fitting, right? We ate our New Year’s lunch in disappointed, depressed, and embarrassed silence. Oh, how we wished we could just go home!
Although the New Year’s meal is very traditional, there are plenty of ways to creatively serve it. I am a much better cook now, even though I don’t cook greens - I don’t care for them or the smell of them boiling - I leave that process to my father-in-law. Instead of boiling mustard or collard greens, I like to sauté kale or spinach with garlic and bacon. I have served black-eyed peas as a salad or dip (called Texas Caviar). My boys and I love our black-eyed peas over white rice, called hoppin’ john. Some people even serve stewed tomatoes and okra with their hoppin’ john. When it comes to fashion, my husband is a simple man, but he certainly enjoys accessorizing his food: relish on his peas, pepper sauce on his greens, butter on his cornbread, honey or jam on his biscuits, etc. I try to be sure to have all the necessary accoutrements for such a meal. I can honestly say I have never cooked hog jowl (even my southern ways have their limits), but there is nothing like a spiral-sliced honey ham or stuffed pork loin.
Whatever you do, just be sure to have family and friends there to share it with you! May you and yours be blessed with health, prosperity, and good luck in 2015. Happy New Year!