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How did the old New Year’s custom of eating black-eyed peas begin?

How did the old New Year's custom of eating black-eyed peas begin?

How did the old New Year’s custom of eating black-eyed peas begin?

Dear Duchess Dale,

Your question is turning out to be quite intriguing because I always assumed the custom originated from slavery days in the Deep South.

How did the old New Year’s custom of eating black-eyed peas begin?

Maybe I first encountered the tradition of good luck with African-American friends in Seattle in 1964. But this website of THE SPRUCE suggests the custom has been around for at least 1,500 years and may have arrived in the American South with Sephardic Jews immigrating to Georgia!

Here is the link, along with a quote I lifted and a photo that includes some Southern-style ham hocks and greens:

“Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s has been considered good luck for at least 1,500 years. According to a portion of the Talmud written around 500 A.D., it was Jewish custom at the time to eat black-eyed peas in celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (which occurs in autumn). It is possible that the tradition arrived in America with Sephardic Jews, who first arrived in Georgia in the 1730s.”

Why do we eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day?

As with most superstitions, there are many answers to this question.

  • Most Southerners will tell you that this culinary custom dates back to the Civil War. Black-eyed peas were considered animal food. The peas were not deemed worthy of serving General Sherman’s Union troops. When Union soldiers raided the Confederates’ food supplies, legend says they took everything except the peas and salted pork. The Confederates considered themselves lucky to be left with those meager supplies, and they survived the winter. Peas then became symbolic of luck.
  • Black-eyed peas were also given to enslaved people, as were most other traditional Southern New Year’s foods, and evolved through the years to be considered “soul food.” One variation of the superstition says that black-eyed peas were all the enslaved people in the South had to celebrate with on the first day of January 1863.
  • Others say that since farming has always been important in the South, black-eyed peas are available and are a good food to celebrate in the winter. Not many crops grow this time of the year, but black-eyed peas stored well were cheap, and it all just made sense.

By now, you probably know the answer: We eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day because it’s supposed to be lucky. But the truth is:

The black-eyed pea didn’t become a symbol of hard times; instead, it’s a lucky New Year’s superstition that can offer wealth and prosperity. No matter what version of the myth you pick, the black-eyed pea is a metaphor for grit and survival. It’s an inspirational American story. Our ancestors survived the worst. We remember them and celebrate by eating Hoppin’ John.

Take Care,

What is the reason they eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s in the South?

For the same reason, we eat cabbage. It’s tradition.

It comes from a popular superstition that eating cabbage and black-eyed peas at the start of the year will result in your health and wealth that year (can’t remember which one is for which, honestly.) What I can remember is every New Year’s family gathering, either MaMaw, Grandma, or Aunt Jane forcing the kids to eat “at least one little bite.”

Plus, they were cheap. Like, cheap. Probably a big contributor to how the superstition got started. This is a historically poor area, and people need hope, even if it is for dumb reasons.

Strangely enough, I’m not superstitious at all, but I still got my 3-year-old to take a bite of the black-eyed peas and a bite of the cabbage earlier this week (he dug the peas, by the way.)

Some things we do because we have to. Some things we do because we enjoy them. And some things we do, well, just because.

What is the origin of the tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day? Is there any superstition or belief associated with it?

BEPs bring luck in the New Year. You must eat exactly 365 peas. Also, you must eat them with collard greens. Collards are green like money and represent wealth. You must also eat stewed tomatoes for health. (rosy red cheeks).

The tradition started after the Civil War. BEPs were originally cattle fodder. On Sherman’s march to the sea, his troops destroyed all food crops and edibles. He did not destroy the fields of BEPs because they weren’t considered fit for human consumption. Except they were. Soldiers and civilians survived on them. BEPs are very nutritious when combined with wild greens such as collards, lamb’s quarters, dandelions, etc.

What started the tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck in the US? Is it a practice in only certain regions of the country?

There was a piece on NPR Weekend Edition this morning about this. We’ve always had Hoppin’ John [black-eyed peas/tempeh/onions/garlic/cayenne stew] first thing on New Year’s Day for good luck and cabbage for wealth (greenbacks), but today I learned what we’d been missing: cornbread for gold. My wife and I have our wedding rings, but no Krugerrands or Double Eagles, so I guess that was our oversight planning for retirement. Not enough cornbread…

When and why did the New Year’s tradition of preparing blackeye peas and putting a dime in the dish for good luck start?

My best friend in high school and college was a black man who made a soul food meal of chitterlings, cabbage, and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. In Mexico and much of the American South, some sort of rice, beans, and collards or cabbage is a common New Year’s tradition, often with a ham hock or some sort of chunk of pork to flavor it up. It was a nice meal to ring in the new year, and you could feed several people for fairly little money.

The dime was tossed in for good luck—whoever found the dime in their bowl would have particularly good luck in the coming year.

When and why did the New Year’s tradition of preparing blackeye peas and putting a dime in the dish for good luck start?

I know similar traditions are alive in Spain.

In Italy, btw, it’s traditional to have lentils instead of beans, rice, pork, and chicken.

Lentils should represent coins, a greeting for money, as Riso (Rice) in Italian means laugh too, so a greeting for happiness.

Pork and chicken were high-end foods for poor people. So it was eaten for abundance in harvests or gains.

Why do southerners eat black-eyed peas?

This Southerner eats them because:

  • I like the taste, especially when served over a wedge of hot cornbread.
  • They graced my mother’s table and are part of my short history.
  • They are traditional on New Year’s Day; otherwise, we would cook them less often.

A more detailed answer would mention the likelihood of the pea’s arrival in the US from Africa via the slave trade. While it is likely, no one knows how they reached the US.

Did you eat black-eyed peas and greens for New Year’s?

Absolutely! Every year without fail, from as long ago as I can remember. Black-eyed peas and rice (Hoppin’ John), collard greens, hog jowl, and raw onion. The hog jowl (always, and not bacon) is for flavor and tradition. But we always also serve some ham alongside. I can remember my great-grandmother cooking this up in the 50s. Nowadays, my daughters have taken over the role. We look forward to this each New Year’s Day as a way to look forward while recognizing the traditions and bonds that hold us together. After the holiday rush, I spent some quiet time with my family. And we spend the whole evening arguing about which parts represent “health, wealth, and happiness”!

Do you eat black-eyed peas for luck in the new year?

I’ve made Hoppin’ John and green cabbage every New Year’s Day lunch (technically breakfast) for decades, and so far nothing too awful has happened to me. Mostly pretty good, and I’m 66. I adapt the Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook recipe, New York: Macmillan, 1995. [fair use clause]

1 1/4 cups dry black-eyed peas [pick over for stones!], rinse, and soak overnight. Drain. [Or Better (less foam/flatulence): cover, bring to a boil for 2 minutes (!), then let sit for 1 hour, and pour off the soaking water.]

4 cups fresh water and bring to a boil. Add:

1 1/2 cups chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced (I usually use 2)

1 bay leaf Simmer all for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Don’t let it foam over! Add:

8 oz. of tempeh, crumbled, and marinated in 1 Tbsp. tamari for 5 minutes

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (I use lots more!) Simmer for 1 hour more.

Remove the bay leaf and mash it slightly with a fork. After it has cooled some, I usually also add 1 tablespoon of red miso as a trace of salt to bring out the umami. Stir well.

We often serve this over brown rice, so plan if you want this, too.

Green cabbage represents money, but that’s another recipe.

Why do black-eyed peas bring you good luck during the new year?

It is a tradition in the South, dating back to the War of Northern Aggression, sometimes called the Civil War. Sherman’s March to the Sea was the very definition of scorched earth. They killed livestock and burned food, homes, fields, and warehouses. All except black-eyed peas, which Yankees considered unfit for human consumption. Thus…

The Southern New Year’s Eve dinner consists of black-eyed peas, representing coins. I like it in Hoppin’ John. No, it is not a laxative. There are collard greens, representing folding money. Cornbread stands in for gold. Pork jowl is from the pig, representing wealth. “Fat as a hog,” we call it.

So there you have a bit of history, superstition, food tradition, and high-fat content. Enjoy!

Did you eat black-eyed peas and greens for New Year’s?

I didn’t. I had this instead: oatmeal gruel with Gala apples, prunes, pecans, cinnamon, dark brown sugar, and ground flax seed meal. a relatively healthy start to the year.

I wasn’t raised in the South, but I did live in Washington, DC, for 35 years, so plenty of New Year’s Day meals featured black-eyed peas and greens. I didn’t notice any change in my luck either way. Good stuff and bad stuff seemed to happen equally every year, no matter what I ate.

My maternal grandmother’s parents were Polish immigrants, and the tradition she kept involved eating pickled herring on New Year’s Eve, right at midnight. With pumpernickel bread. I happen to really like pickled herring in cream sauce and pumpernickel bread, so I use the tradition as an excuse to indulge myself.

This meal also had no repercussions, luck-wise, for the rest of the year. Weird…

Do you eat black-eyed peas for luck in the new year?

I’ve made Hoppin’ John and green cabbage every New Year’s Day lunch (technically breakfast) for decades, and so far nothing too awful has happened to me. Mostly pretty good, and I’m 66. I adapt the Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook recipe, New York: Macmillan, 1995. [fair use clause]

1 1/4 cups dry black-eyed peas [pick over for stones!], rinse, and soak overnight. Drain. [Or Better (less foam/flatulence): cover, bring to a boil for 2 minutes (!), then let sit for 1 hour, and pour off the soaking water.]

4 cups fresh water and bring to a boil. Add:

1 1/2 cups chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced (I usually use 2)

1 bay leaf Simmer all for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Don’t let it foam over! Add:

8 oz. of tempeh, crumbled, and marinated in 1 Tbsp. tamari for 5 minutes

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (I use lots more!) Simmer for 1 hour more.

Remove the bay leaf and mash it slightly with a fork. After it has cooled some, I usually also add 1 tablespoon of red miso as a trace of salt to bring out the umami. Stir well.

We often serve this over brown rice, so plan if you want this, too.

Green cabbage represents money, but that’s another recipe.

What are the good-luck foods for New Year’s Day?

Grace my palm with silver, and I’ll tell you a great fortune to be reaped,” says the geomancer to the believer.

Chinese believe that eating certain foods is auspicious, especially in a new year when the “gods of prosperity” will look down favorably on all believers who hope to usher in prosperity, untold wealth, and good fortune.

Bottom: a very Malaysian-Chinese thingy: for 15 days of CNY, restaurants all over offer a grand dish called “Prosperity Toss,” also known as love (Cantonese for 撈起 or 捞起), a Cantonese-style raw fish salad. A grand start to the courses to follow—a must-have dish considered a symbol of abundance, prosperity, and vigor.

Everyone can prosper.

The higher you toss, the livelier and more prosperous your business life!!! Note: This dish is exceedingly rare in China.

I won’t list the 8 prosperity dishes of a Chinese New Year, mainly because they’re only available in East and Southeast Asian restaurants (a great region for superstitious people) and are most elaborate to prepare at home.

Instead, here’s a list of foods that augur well for the 2019 Year of the Pig—so pig out!!!

Carrots and radishes are lucky and are consumed for good luck. They are common in stir-fried dishes, salads, and soups.

Chinese spinach: the root of this vegetable (por choy) is reddish, and red, of course, is an auspicious color in Chinese superstition. associated with prosperity.

Eggplant: associated with “extraordinary”??The Hainanese vegetarian stir-fry eggplant with garlic should be eaten on the very first day of CNY, when it’s at its most potent.

Golden needle mushrooms: a great-tasting, great-tasting stir-fried vegetable in ‘Buddha’s Delight’ vegan dish or in a Chinese reunion hotpot.

Leeks: The Chinese homophonic word for leeks sounds like “counting”; naturally, leeks are associated with money and wealth.

Lettuce: The homonym for lettuce (sang choi in Cantonese) sounds like “to grow luck.” So… be sure to feed those prancing Lion Dancer troupes with a big, fresh bunch of sang choi. Rest assured, you’ll be lucky in 2019.

Lotus root: enjoy that crunchy candied snack! Or make a Lotus root-peanut soup with red dates, etc.

Lotus seeds: Unless you’re fine with the number of children you have now, eating lotus seeds symbolizes having many children and grandchildren.

Mustard leaves (long leaf variety) (kai choy) symbolize “longevity.”. Some cook this vegetable without cutting it, as the superstitious believe it shortens ‘life’.

Peanuts: “hands clasping together”—have you noticed that peanuts look like this? In China, the Bai ethnic people in Yunnan province treat males with peanuts as a show of fondness and friendship.

Pineapple: a lucky fruit Yessiree, it is said to deliver prosperity to those who eat it. Highly recommended: Thai pineapple fried rice.

What is the origin of black-eyed peas for New Year’s?

The tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is often associated with Southern United States folklore and is considered a symbol of good luck and prosperity for the coming year. There are several theories about the origin of this tradition.

One popular belief is rooted in African American folklore and the history of the Southern United States. During the Civil War, it is said that when Union soldiers raided Confederate food supplies, they left behind black-eyed peas and pork, considering them to be food fit only for animals. The black-eyed peas were then adopted by Southern African American communities as a symbol of resilience and good luck.

Another theory suggests that black-eyed peas were considered good luck because they swell when cooked, symbolizing prosperity. The tradition of pairing black-eyed peas with greens, like collard greens or cabbage, is also common. The greens represent money and are thought to bring financial success in the new year.

While the exact origin of the tradition may be unclear, eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day has become a cherished custom in the Southern United States and has spread to other regions as well, with many people embracing the idea of starting the new year with a meal that symbolizes good fortune and abundance.

Why do people eat black-eyed peas and cornbread on New Year’s?

The tradition of eating black-eyed peas and cornbread on New Year’s Day, particularly in the Southern United States, is rooted in cultural and historical symbolism associated with prosperity, good luck, and financial well-being.

  1. Black-Eyed Peas: Black-eyed peas are often seen as a symbol of good luck and prosperity. There are various stories and beliefs associated with this. One story links back to the Civil War era, when black-eyed peas were considered suitable only as animal fodder by Union troops and were left behind during raids. The peas were then embraced by Southerners as a staple and a symbol of survival and resilience.
  2. Cornbread: Cornbread is another staple in Southern cuisine, and it is often associated with prosperity. The golden color of cornbread is said to represent gold or wealth. Cornbread and black-eyed peas are commonly eaten together on New Year’s Day, and the combination is seen as a way to ensure a year filled with good fortune.

In addition to black-eyed peas and cornbread, some people also include other foods in their New Year’s Day meal for added symbolism. For example, greens (such as collard greens, turnip greens, or cabbage) are often included because their green color is reminiscent of money, symbolizing financial prosperity. Pork is also a common addition, as pigs root forward when they eat, symbolizing progress and moving forward in the new year.

These New Year’s food traditions are deeply ingrained in Southern culture and have been passed down through generations as a way to bring good luck and positive energy for the upcoming year. While the specific beliefs and stories may vary, the overall theme is one of hope and optimism for a prosperous and fortunate new year.

Where did the tradition of eating cabbage on New Year’s come from?

The tradition of eating cabbage on New Year’s Day, especially in the Southern United States, is tied to the belief that consuming certain foods can bring good luck and prosperity in the coming year. Cabbage, along with other greens, is often included in New Year’s Day meals for symbolic reasons:

  1. Green Color Symbolism: The green color of cabbage is associated with money and wealth. In many cultures, the color green is symbolic of growth, renewal, and financial prosperity. By consuming green vegetables like cabbage, people hope to invite economic success and good fortune into their lives for the new year.
  2. Abundance and Fertility: Cabbage is a hardy, leafy vegetable that can grow well in various conditions. Its association with abundance and fertility might have contributed to its inclusion in New Year’s meals. Eating cabbage is seen as a way to ensure a bountiful and fruitful year ahead.
  3. Continuation of Southern Food Traditions: In the Southern United States, where eating black-eyed peas and greens (such as cabbage, collard greens, or turnip greens) on New Year’s Day is a well-established tradition, the combination of these foods is believed to bring a combination of luck, wealth, and good health.

While specific beliefs and traditions may vary, the common theme is to start the new year on a positive note by consuming foods that are thought to attract prosperity and good fortune. The combination of black-eyed peas, greens, and cabbage in a New Year’s Day meal is a way for people to symbolically set the tone for a year filled with abundance, health, and financial well-being.

Why do people eat lentils and black-eyed peas on New Year’s?

Eating lentils and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is a tradition in various cultures and is often associated with the belief that these legumes symbolize good luck, wealth, and prosperity. Different regions and cultures have their own variations of this tradition, and the reasons for consuming lentils and black-eyed peas can vary. Here are some common explanations:

  1. Lentils:
  • Resemblance to Coins: In many cultures, lentils are round and flat, resembling coins. The round shape is thought to symbolize wealth and prosperity. Eating lentils on New Year’s Day is believed to bring financial success and good fortune.
  • Abundance and Fertility: Lentils are also associated with abundance and fertility due to their ability to multiply when cooked. Consuming lentils may symbolize hope for a year filled with growth, abundance, and prosperity.
  1. Black-Eyed Peas:
  • Southern Tradition: In the Southern United States, black-eyed peas are a key component of New Year’s Day meals. As mentioned earlier, the tradition is often linked to their historical significance during the Civil War, when they were considered a humble but resilient food source. Eating black-eyed peas is believed to bring good luck and prosperity in the new year.
  • Symbol of Wealth: Similar to lentils, black-eyed peas are thought to resemble coins, and their consumption is believed to attract financial prosperity.

It’s important to note that these traditions and beliefs can vary across cultures and regions. In some cases, additional foods like greens (representing money) and pork (symbolizing progress and moving forward) may also be included in New Year’s meals to enhance the symbolism of wealth, luck, and prosperity.

While the specific reasons may differ, the common thread in many cultures is the practice of starting the new year with a meal that symbolizes positive attributes and sets the tone for a prosperous and fortunate year ahead.

Is it good luck to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day?

The tradition of eating black-eyed peas for good luck is typically associated with New Year’s Day rather than New Year’s Eve. Many cultures, especially in the Southern United States, believe that consuming black-eyed peas on the first day of the year brings good luck and prosperity for the months ahead.

The idea is to start the new year with a symbolic meal that represents abundance, resilience, and positive energy. Black-eyed peas are often paired with other foods like greens (such as collard greens or cabbage) and pork, each carrying its own symbolic meaning related to prosperity and progress.

While the emphasis is on New Year’s Day, it’s essential to note that traditions can vary across cultures and regions. Some people may choose to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Eve as part of their celebration or to ensure they’ve already embraced the tradition as they welcome the new year. Ultimately, the belief in the good luck associated with black-eyed peas is deeply ingrained in cultural practices and is a way for people to express hope and optimism for a positive and prosperous year ahead.

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