The great speedometer of life rolls over at the end of each year, making the entire year history. For many, it’s a time for reflection, to plan better things for ourselves, family, friends and our world.
Lots of us eat something “lucky” every New Year’s Day. It’s not that there’s any real luck in any food, but there’s the chance that eating something so simple as a special dish might just be something we’re glad we did. We don’t have an awful lot to lose by indulging in a savory, steamy dish.
In this country, we’ve gravitated to two groups of foods for the New Year celebration. The midnight food which might be caviar, pate foie gras, truffles and champagne is extravagant food. However, on New Years Day, the day itself, most of us don’t mix fancy foods with our football games. This day we eat for our luck! And, we tend to cook the simple and the humble, frequently black-eyed peas, as if to show lady luck we are not always lavish spenders and do deserve good fortune.
Linking food to prosperity and happiness is practiced in most cultures with simple foods. In Scotland, most eat haggis.The Scandinavians go for rice pudding with lucky almonds, while the Bahamians eat corn fritters. A mixture of corn, yams & pumpkin is what the Nigerians like, and lentils plus sausage is the favored dish in tiny Sicily. Special numbers of grapes matter most in many of the Latin countries. For the Japanese, it’s mochi rice cakes, and for many Greeks, it’s special cakes with coins in them. Russians go for hot borscht, while Jamaicans eat curried goat. Boiled cod and apple cake does it in Denmark; the Austrians, eat cabbage for silver and carrots for gold. They also feel they need herring. The French cover all their gourmet bases by feasting on everything delicious.
Popular black-eyed peas may be made luckier with a three-way reinforcement – rice, pork and greens. The peas are a food that swells with cooking, and this increase is said to ensure prosperity. Rice is a universal symbol for prosperity, abundance and good luck. Pork is good on this day, because many believe a family that owns a pig is guaranteed to eat well. Greens represent greenbacks, and that of course is – money!
Black-eyed peas were eaten in North Africa for centuries and introduced to the New World by Spanish explorers and slaves. This vegetable has many names — cowpeas, field peas, Jerusalem peas, cow beans, marble beans, China beans, Tonkin peas and black-eyed Suzies to name a few. They cooked the earliest peas in their pods as we cook green beans today. Black-eyes need a long, warm growing season, and this, too, is responsible for their lack of popularity in the north until recent years. Turning up in haute cuisine worldwide, they’re now available dried, fresh, canned, and frozen for use in soups, salads, fritters, and casseroles. They can also be puréed or sprouted.
Hoppin’ John is a recipe for black-eyed peas with rice. If you have the time, prepare dry black-eyed peas according to package directions or use canned or frozen peas. When tender, add some pork and other favorite seasonings. Meanwhile cook white rice separately according to its directions and add to the black-eyed peas. Simmer the two for a few minutes. Just before serving, stir in chopped parsley, spinach or kale, maybe all three. Simmer two more minutes and serve.
Just because you’re very busy on New Year’s Day, it doesn’t mean you should do without your lucky food.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!