New Year’s Eve means getting together with family and friends to share wishes for happiness, good health and prosperity in the upcoming year. For the eve, it is our tradition to watch the “Ball Drop” (it gets harder every year to stay awake that late!), open a bottle of bubbly for a toast at midnight and keep on with the eating frenzy that started with Thanksgiving and continues through New Year’s Day. It is also a time to reflect on the past and make resolutions for the future.
Food dishes vary in our New Year’s Day menu, but there are traditional Southern foods that never waiver such as black-eyed peas (also know as Hoppin John) with rice, collard greens, cornbread, sweet potatoes and smothered pork chops. For dessert, a homemade pecan pie or peach cobbler fits in perfectly and we can’t forget good ole’ sweet tea.
Black-eyed peas, collard greens and pork are thought to be lucky additions to the New Year’s dinner table. When I was growing up, my mom had sayings that related to these foods. She told us black-eyed peas with hog jowl would bring wealth because the peas looked like little coins, along with the fact that they swell when cooked which is a sure sign of prosperity.
When I was young, I never liked the looks of “hog jowl” or the sound of the name but as an adult, I got past those obstacles. It did give the peas great taste and flavor, therefore, I still carry on the hog jowl tradition. Mom would be proud. She also said collard greens symbolize keeping money in your pocket; we all need that kind of luck, because that’s hard to do these days.
Her last saying was if you eat pork on New Year’s you will live high on the hog but if you eat chicken, you will scratch all year. Even if a person didn’t like these foods, Mom made sure no one left the dinner table without a bite of each. I think all these sayings are folklore, but I’m not going to chance it, so these will be on the table as always this New Year’s Day.
With this meal, I like to prepare hot water cornbread for a nice change of pace from the usual baked pan cornbread. It is a patty made of self-rising cornmeal, boiling water, salt and pepper then pan fried (preferably in a cast iron skillet) in vegetable oil or bacon grease until gold and crispy. They are great slathered in butter and good to sop up the collard’s pot-liquor. Mom would sometimes make them for breakfast and top them with maple syrup. They are an old-school Southern bread recipe that is plain, simple and tasty.
Bob, my husband, enjoys pickled herring in a sour cream sauce, which is another good luck food, especially when eaten at the stroke of midnight New Year’s Eve. Another Greene family holiday food served at Christmas or New Year’s Eve is a jelled meat dish called Studenetz. This very old recipe is made with the removed meat from pork hocks and veal neck bones that have been simmered in water with lots of chopped onions, garlic and celery. Next, the mixture is refrigerated which gels the juices and meat together, and then it is served in slices. Also in the past, I have made pickled pigs feet, another holiday (or anytime) favorite of Bob’s. He enjoys these special dishes but personally, I’ll stick with black-eyed peas and collards!
All over the world, people eat certain foods on New Year’s Day hoping to gain riches, love and prosperity throughout the upcoming year. Therefore, as the clock strikes midnight and your new year begins “eat for luck,” it can’t hurt, think of it as tradition and get off to the best possible start!
Diann Greene, whose column appears weekly in Accent, can be e-mailed at email@example.com.
black-eyed Peas with Hog Jowl
q 1 cup sliced celery
q 2/3 cup chopped onion
q 1 clove minced garlic
q 1 tablespoon bacon drippings or vegetable oil
q 4 cups water
q 2 cans condensed chicken broth, undiluted
q 1 pound (16 oz.) package dried black-eyed peas or frozen or fresh peas
q 1/2 pound hog jowl, cut into cubes
q 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
q 1 bay leaf, optional
q Salt and pepper to taste
n If using dried black-eyed, pick over the peas, rinse them well then soak in cold water overnight (no need to soak frozen or fresh peas).
n Sauté the celery, onion and garlic in the bacon drippings or vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven until tender.
n Drain the peas and add to the vegetable mixture with the water and the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil; partially cover, reduce the heat, and simmer until tender (approximately one hour or longer).
n Season with salt and pepper to taste, remove the bay leaf and serve.
n Note: We like our peas soft and on the soupy side. If you like thicker peas remove the lid after about 30 minutes and continue simmering until tender. Frozen or fresh peas do not take as long to cook.