“May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions.” — Joey Adams, comedian, nightclub performer and author
The right meal on New Year’s Day is supposed to ensure prosperity and health in the coming year. I’m thinking a good meal by itself would go a long way toward both averting troubles and forgetting about resolutions.
But, just in case it doesn’t, what was your New Year’s Day cuisine? Most people likely started with traditional black-eyed peas as the staple. From there, variations were likely many. Some favor turnip greens while others insist it must be cabbage. I say why not cover all the bases and have both.
That’s what Granny did. Dad’s mother was ritualistic about eating for luck on January 1. There was no escaping black-eyed peas at her house. She not only served both cabbage and greens with them but lots more. Sunday dinner at her house any time of the year included fried chicken and ham with a variety of vegetables and desserts. If you left her house hungry, it was nobody’s fault but your own.
My New Year’s eating rituals are, well … less ritualistic. Sorry, Granny. I’ve tried traditional peas, greens, and cabbage, and while they’re certainly good, my New Year’s traditions sometimes lean toward “what’s open today?” While considering my New Year’s menu, I decided to research the traditions.
Most point toward three prevalent foods for the quintessential first meal of the year. The undisputed number-one, must-have New Year’s food is black-eyed peas. Reasons why are cooked up in legend, but two persist. One is an Italian tradition about peas (lentils in general) resembling coins. Therefore, eating them on the first day of the year is certain to add money to one’s good fortune.
The other is based on Southern Civil War lore when black-eyed peas were used to feed cattle. During the Battle of Vicksburg in 1863, the town was cut off from all supplies for nearly two months. Local residents and Confederate troops resorted to eating food reserved for the livestock including the peas, also known as “cowpeas,” in order to survive.
As to whether you compliment your peas with cabbage or turnip greens likely makes little difference because that part of the meal appears to have grown from varying preferences of “green leafy vegetables.” Folks from both the North and the South eat black-eyed peas and greens of some sort for good luck on New Year’s Day following a tradition rooted in the green part representing the assurance of wealth as in greenbacks, or money.
Those decisions made, all that remains for the perfect meal to lure prosperity into one’s future is the inclusion of cornbread. With these three, dining high on the hog is well represented by peas for pennies, greens for dollars, and cornbread for gold.
Speaking of high on the hog, pork has long been well entrenched as the traditional meat for New Year’s whether served as a dish or used in seasoning the vegetables. That term, by the way, is an allusion to the best and more expensive cuts of meat from a hog considered to be those above the belly.
So, what did I feast on for the first day of the new year? An ample meal of long-standing traditions like Granny offered at her house including black-eyed peas, cabbage, greens, and cornbread was enjoyed late in the day. But that was after a really good old-fashioned hamburger earlier. Like I said, I believe in covering all the bases.
Besides, who says hamburgers, barbecue, or enchiladas can’t bring one good fortune in the new year as well?
Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.