No one knows for sure exactly how Southerners came to eat black-eyed peas for luck on New Year's Day.
Many food historians suggest the practice came about during the Civil War when cowpeas and corn were all that were left in war-ravaged Southern fields, leading to these foods being thought of as lucky.
But the tradition likely predates the Civil War.
Another theory suggests the practice is borrowed from the Jewish tradition of eating lucky foods on the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. Sephardic Jews settled in Georgia in the early to mid-1700s. Sephardic Jews can trace their ancestors to Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East.
Food historian and author Michael Twitty writes about black-eyed peas' symbolism in African cultures on his website, Afroculinaria.com, noting the legume is an "ancient staple of the diet in Senegambia and its hinterlands, the black-eyed pea grows well in hot, drought-conducive conditions and is a symbol of resilience, mercy, and kindness."
According to an article at the Library of Congress website, black-eyed peas made their way to the Americas as early as 1674 via the slave trade.
By the 1700s black-eyed peas were widely cultivated throughout Florida and North Carolina.
"The cultivation of black-eyed peas (Vigna unguiculata) dates back 6,000 years to Africa, where they are believed to have originated and where they were planted alongside sorghum and millet," writes Sandra A. Gutierrez in Beans & Field Peas, a Savor the South Cookbook.
Given this information, it's fair to say the tradition of eating black-eyed peas and greens on New Year's Day originated in Southern black culture, but was adopted by Southern culture at large.
Tradition calls for Hoppin' John and collard greens, but for those hankering for something different but unwilling to push their luck, we've gathered a variety of recipes that offer options for black-eyed pea lovers as well as haters.
Unless otherwise specified, the following recipes can be prepared with dried, canned or frozen black-eyed peas.
Dried black-eyed peas will benefit from soaking before cooking, but this step isn't required. Soaking will help them cook more evenly and cut the cooking time by half. A two- to three- hour soak will suffice.
Basic (Vegetarian) Black-Eyed Peas
2 cups dried peas, picked over
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoon garlic powder
Ground black pepper
Place peas in a large pot. Add water to cover by about an inch. For each quart of water add 1 tablespoon salt. (Yes, really. No, this will not make them tough.) Soak 2 to 8 hours. Drain and rinse well.
Return peas to pot and add fresh water to cover by about an inch. Add the onion and garlic powders. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until tender, 45 minutes to 2 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cooking time will vary based on a variety of factors including age of the beans and soaking times.
This recipe has been a favorite of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette readers for more than 20 years.
Creole Black-Eyed Peas
4 slices bacon, fried crisp and crumbled, divided use
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 cup chopped celery
1 (10-ounce) can Ro-Tel (diced tomatoes and green chiles)
2 (15- to 16-ounce) cans black-eyed peas OR 4 cups cooked black-eyed peas
2 to 3 teaspoons sugar
Salt to taste
1 bay leaf
Saute onion, green pepper and celery in bacon drippings until tender. Stir in Ro-Tel, black-eyed peas, sugar, salt, bay leaf and half the crumbled bacon. Cook over low heat 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add water if necessary. Remove bay leaf and sprinkle with remaining crumbled bacon just before serving.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Recipe from Pat Best via Irene Wassell
Because it's flavored with sausage, onion, chile, tomatoes and cheese, you'd hardly know you were eating peas if we didn't tell you. This is essentially meaty cheese dip with a dose of luck.
Black-Eyed Pea Cheese Dip
½ pound ground sausage
1 medium onion, peeled, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
1 (15-ounce) can black-eyed peas, drained
1 (10-ounce) can Ro-Tel tomatoes and green chiles (we used Chipotle flavor)
1 teaspoon chile powder
1 pound Velveeta, cut into 1-inch cubes
Tortilla chips or corn chips, such as Fritos, for serving
Cook the sausage, onion and garlic in a large skillet over medium-high heat, breaking the sausage into crumbles as it cooks. Stir in the black-eyed peas, Ro-Tel and chile powder. Add the cheese and cook, stirring occasionally, until cheese is melted.
Serve with chips.
Makes 8 to 12 servings.
This recipe has no similarities to Hoppin' John other than the name. It is actually quite similar to hummus, except with black-eyed peas standing in for chickpeas.
Hoppin' John Black-Eyed Pea Butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
½ teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 ½ cups prepared black-eyed peas OR 1 (15-ounce) can black-eyed peas, drained
½ teaspoon hot sauce
Juice of ½ lemon, or more to taste
1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste)
½ teaspoon smoked sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Crackers, toasted baguette or pita chips, for serving
In a medium skillet over medium-low heat, combine the olive oil, garlic, coriander and cumin. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until garlic has softened and the spices are fragrant.
Scrape mixture into a food processor and puree along with the peas, hot sauce, lemon juice, tahini, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth.
Serve with crackers, toasted baguette or pita chips.
Makes about 1 ½ cups.
Recipe adapted from The Southern Vegetarian by Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence
Here, black-eyed peas are seasoned and roasted into spicy, crunchy little bits perfect for enjoying with a cocktail or beer.
Chile Roasted Black-Eyed Peas
2 (15.8-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and well drained
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons chile powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick foil.
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer mixture to the prepared pan. Bake 45 to 50 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, or until crispy and dry. Let cool 20 minutes.
Adapted from Southern Living
Butter, seasonings and cream cheese mellow black-eyed peas' inherent earthiness in these roll-ups. Pickle lovers may wish to substitute pickled okra for the green onions.
1 (15-ounce) can black-eyed peas, drained OR 1 ¾ cups cooked black-eyed peas
¼ cup butter, softened
Pinch or three ground red pepper (cayenne)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon onion powder
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
16 (1-ounce) slices cooked ham
16 green onions, trimmed
Combine peas and butter in a saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until mixture is hot and butter is completely melted. Stir in spices and reduce heat to low; cook 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
Combine the cooled pea mixture and the cream cheese in a food processor. Process until smooth.
Spread cream cheese-pea mixture over ham slices and place a green onion on a long edge of the ham slice and roll, jellyroll-style. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour. Cut rolls into ½-inch slices just before serving.
Makes 6 ½ dozen bites.
Recipe adapted from America's Best Recipes 1991 edition
Food on 12/26/2018
Print Headline: Peas for prosperity: Black-eyed peas are said to bring good luck, and there’s more than one way to cook them