Delicious With A Shot At Prosperity
Story and Photos by Andre Arceneaux
With its roots deeply grounded in superstition and hope for the future, your New Year’s Day lunch might just be the most important meal you will eat all year.
Many of the world’s most popular New Year’s traditions revolve around eating, with certain foods serving as symbols of the eaters’ hopes and wishes for the future.
Some cultures eat bagels on the morning of New Year’s Day to signify the year coming full circle. On New Year’s Eve in Mexico, the tradition is to eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight, with each one representing a month of the year ahead. If one is bitter, watch out for that month. The Greek smash pomegranates, with its many seeds standing in for prosperity, and eat figs, which symbolize fertility.
But here in Louisiana, and in most of the American south, our food customs and traditions are as flavorful as our history.
It’s likely that you will be expected to prepare black-eyed peas in some form. These flavorful legumes (Yes, black-eyed peas are NOT peas, but beans and therefore legumes!) are traditionally, according to Southern folklore, the first food to be eaten on New Year’s Day for luck and prosperity that will last throughout the year ahead.
The practice of eating black-eyed peas for luck is generally believed to date back to the Civil War. Originally planted as food for livestock and later a food staple for slaves in the South, the fields of black-eyed peas were ignored as General William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops destroyed or stole the other crops. The ignoring of these crops gave the humble, but nourishing, black-eyed pea an important role as a major food source for surviving Confederates.
Fast-forward to today, the tradition of eating black-eyed peas for the New Year has evolved into a number of variations that all follow the luck and prosperity theme. One of these traditions includes serving the black-eyed peas with cornbread. The cornbread, with its rich yellow color, represents gold and the black-eyed peas represent coins.
For the best chance of luck every day in the year ahead, one must eat at least 365 black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day; a tradition my Grandmother swore by!
The catch to all of these superstitious traditions is that the black-eyed peas are the essential element and eating only the cornbread without the peas will not do the trick. To make sure you get the most out of your New Year’s Day meal, follow these simple recipes that are sure to satisfy.
Hoppin’ John With Pork
Though particularly not well known in Louisiana, “Hoppin’ John” is a peas and rice dish served in the Southern United States Low Country – Alabama, the Carolinas and such. It is made with black-eyed peas, rice, chopped onion and sliced bacon (or some variation of pork).
One tradition common in the U.S. is that each person at the meal should leave three peas on their plate to ensure that the New Year will be filled with luck, fortune and romance. Another tradition holds that counting the number of peas in a serving predicts the amount of luck or wealth that the diner will have in the coming year.
Even those leftovers, if any, are good for something. Eating your leftover “Hoppin’ John” on Jan 2. is called “Skippin’ Jenny,” and further demonstrates one’s fiscal responsibility. It brings hope for an even better chance of prosperity in the New Year.
• 2 quarts pork or chicken Stock
• 1 cup dry black-eyed peas, soaked in a pot of water in the refrigerator overnight (If substituting canned black-eyed peas, drain and rinse one 2-14.5 ounce cans)
• 1/2 pack bacon, chopped
• 1 cup medium dice peeled carrots
• *1 cup medium dice onion
• *1 cup medium dice celery
• 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
• 1 fresh bay leaf
• 10 thyme sprigs (If you can’t find fresh thyme, substitute 1 1/4 teaspoons dry thyme)
• 1/2 fresh jalapeño, chopped (Remove seeds and ribs to make less spicy)
• Kosher salt
• Sliced green onion for garnish
* Substitute 2 cups store bought trinity for convenience
1. Cook chopped bacon until crispy. Remove and place on a paper towel to drain.
2. Bring the stock to a simmer in a pot. Drain the soaked peas and add to the stock, along with all of the remaining ingredients except the salt and green onion. Cook the peas, partially covered, over low heat until they are soft, about 1 hour. Season to taste with salt. (The peas can be cooked ahead and refrigerated in their liquid for up to 3 days; reheat, covered, over low heat before proceeding.)
3. Drain the peas, reserving their cooking liquid.
4. Measure out 1-cup peas and 2 cups liquid for the gravy. Return the rest of the peas, liquid and bacon to the pot and keep warm.
5. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Meanwhile, cook your rice:
* Rice cooking in Louisiana is sacred. How dare I tell you how you ought to do it! But I can tell you that you need 1-cup uncooked rice (3 cups cooked).
Pea Gravy Ingredients
• Reserved 1 cup cooked pea & veggie mixture
• Reserved 2 cups cooking liquid from the peas
• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
• Cider vinegar
1. Put the 1-cup peas, 2 cups cooking liquid and the butter in a blender and blend on high until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add cider vinegar to taste.
2. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the peas to a large serving bowl. Add the rice and carefully toss the rice and peas together. Pour the gravy over them, sprinkle with green onion and serve.
A good cornbread is an essential part of every Southern kitchen. Sure the store bought mix in a little blue box can work in a pinch. But if you have the time, make your cornbread from scratch.
• 1 1/2 cups coarse yellow cornmeal
• 1/2 cup all purpose flour
• 1-teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/2-teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2-teaspoon baking powder
• 5 tablespoons melted butter
• 1 egg, lightly beaten
• 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
• Pinch of salt
1. Heat your oven to 450 degrees. Place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet inside. If you do not have a cast-iron skillet, do not preheat your bake ware.
2. In a bowl, combine the cornmeal, salt, baking soda and baking powder.
3. Combine 4 tablespoons of melted butter, the egg and the buttermilk. Combine the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until smooth.
4. Move the skillet from the oven to the stovetop, over high heat. Add the remaining butter to the pan and swirl to coat. Pour in the batter; it should sizzle vigorously. Shake the skillet to distribute it evenly.
5. Cook 15 to 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Classic Champagne Cocktail
No New Year’s celebration would be complete without a glass of champagne. Ring in the New Year with this classic cocktail.
• 1 sugar cube
• Angostura bitters
• Lemon or orange twist, for garnish
• Soak the sugar cube in Angostura bitters (8-12 drops) and drop into a champagne flute.
• Top with your champagne or sparkling wine of choice.
• Garnish with a simple lemon or orange twist.
With its roots deeply grounded in superstition and hope for the future, your New Year’s Day lunch might just be the most important meal you will eat all year. You only get one chance to set the tone for your year...so don’t mess it up! With these recipes and pointers, you can happily ring in the New Year.