New Year’s is a time for reflection, celebration, and, if you were raised in the South, black-eyed peas, collards and cornbread. Waking up on New Year’s Day, the glitter of the evening still evident in my hair while little strands of popped confetti littered the floor. Resolutions have been resolved. Paper crowns and empty Mason jars are scattered about the living room as I make my way past the gold and silver foiled-lined doorway and into the kitchen to my beloved, saving grace: the coffee pot. Within moments, the aroma of chicory coffee filled the air. The scent of ham hocks and collards babbled away on the stove along with black-eyed peas and pork sausage crooning away in a cast-iron skillet, and golden, crackling studded cornbread sizzles in the oven. This is the aromatic symphony of New Year’s Day.
Each ingredient has meaning and purpose. Black-eyed peas represent coins, collard greens represent dollar bills and cornbread represents gold. Eating each Southern staple on New Year’s Day is supposed to guarantee a prosperous year, ensuring wealth and luck. While, I do not believe in luck, I do believe in the power of tradition.
This New Year’s custom dates back to the Civil War, when union troops pillaged the Southern landscape, leaving behind black-eyed peas and greens as food for animals. These nutrient rich, humble ingredients became cherished as they saved many families from starvation during hard times, and the tradition of the celebration of these ingredients was born. The story may differ from table to table across the region, but the common bond of the unity of family and friends brought together by thankful hearts and renewed hope for the New Year remains the spirit and soul behind the tradition.
So, here is to the New Year, may it be greater than anything we could ever ask or imagine. May it be filled with boundless courage, laughter, and…black-eyed peas and collard greens! Cheers, y’all!
Recipe: Black-Eyed Pea Cassoulet
Note: This dish has all of the components of a Southern New Year’s Day traditional meal, but it is also a lovely, comforting dish perfect on any winter’s day.
1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil, plus more for drizzling
¼ pound of smoky bacon, cut into thin strips
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 sprig of rosemary, leaves only, chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes
½ pound of dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight
1 cup of collards, rinsed and torn into small pieces
½ cup of cornbread crumbs
Salt and pepper, to taste
Hot Pepper Sauce, Sea Salt, Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, for serving
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large cast-iron skillet. Add bacon and cook until golden and crispy. Toss in onion, garlic, tomato, carrot, rosemary leaves and red pepper flakes. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables softened, about 10 minutes.
Drain black-eyed peas and add to the pan. Cover with water, season again lightly with salt, bring to boil and lower the heat to simmer for 45 minutes, until the beans are tender and most of the water has evaporated. Toss in collards and cook just until the greens are bright green, about 2 minutes. Take off heat, adjust seasoning, and cover with cornbread crumbs. Drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and place under the broiler until the crumbs are golden and browned. Serve with hot pepper sauce, flaky sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy!