New Year’s Day comes, and that means two things — changing out your calendar and eating the traditional New Year’s meal.
In the South, the traditional meal contains greens or cabbage, black-eyed peas, some kind of pork and cornbread.
Historic Natchez Foundation Director Mimi Miller said some sources speculate that the tradition of eating black-eyed peas with the New Year originated with immigrant Jewish populations that relocated to the South.
Historical records indicate Jews ate black-eyed peas at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, nearly 1,500 years ago, and the theory is that Gentile contemporaries to the immigrants adopted the practice for the secular New Year and later spread throughout the United States, adding other dishes to the meal.
Other sources say the tradition spread after the Civil War, when northern troops burned most crops but left the black-eyed peas unharmed in the fields.
But with the tradition has grown lore that the food eaten on New Year’s Day brings good luck. Greens or cabbage, it is said, represent the money one will receive during the year, while the peas represent coins. A phrase often invoked is “Peas for pennies, greens for dollars and cornbread for gold.”
Pork does not have a traditional symbolism associated with it, and its inclusion in the traditional New Year’s Day meal may be due to the fact it is often paired with peas, greens and cornbread.
But while those foods are delicious in their own right, the meal can become dull being served the same year after year.
Natchez caterer Sissy Eidt suggests changing things up a bit by using the peas as part of a zesty Southwestern dip.
Black-eyed pea dip
2 cans of black eye peas drained and rinsed well
2 cans of artichoke quarters drained and rinsed, cut in half
1 cup of mayonnaise
1 cup of sour cream
1 can of Rotel tomatoes drained well
4 or 5 green onions chopped small
2 cups of mozzarella cheese divided
Mix all ingredients well and put in glass casserole dish and top with the remaining cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes or until the dip is firm and brown on top. Serve with your favorite chip.
Eidt also recommends an easy cabbage casserole as a way to guarantee good luck with money in the coming year.
Take 1 medium cabbage and wash, core and slice it into strips.
Cook the cabbage in boiling, salted and seasoned water until it is tender.
Drain the cabbage well.
Melt together 1 can of cream of chicken soup and one cup of sharp cheddar cheese.
Using a greased casserole dish, alternate layering the cabbage and the cream sauce.
When done layering the dish, top with plain panko bread crumbs.
Dot with butter.
Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes.
Natchez cookbook author Courtney Taylor said peas are especially easy to enhance. One suggestion is to make Southern caviar, she said, which is black-eyed peas, red onions, bell peppers and whatever herbs are at hand.
Likewise, you can make a Cajun-flavored dirty rice with black-eyed peas and sausage, Taylor said.
“From there, you can take the dirty rice and wrap it in cabbage leaves, and have stuffed cabbage with most of those elements in your meal,” she said.
Another option to include more than one item in a delicious dish is to make a Southern greens potpie, which includes greens, pork and cornbread, Taylor said.
To make the potpie, cook down the greens with salt pork and place them in a deep-dish pie crust and cover with a pastry, but when preparing the pastry top substitute 1/4 cup cornbread for 1/4 cup flour.
For those who prefer cabbage to greens, however, Taylor said she recommends cooked cabbage and pork chops baked together.
To make the cooked cabbage and pork chops:
• Place chopped cabbage in the bottom of a 10-inch skillet.
• Pour half a pint of whole cream over the cabbage.
• In a separate skillet, salt, pepper and brown breakfast pork chops.
• Place the browned pork chops over the cabbage.
• Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for approximately 45 minutes
• Remove from oven, cover the top with grated cheddar cheese and place back in the oven until the cheese is melted.
But if there’s one thing with which Taylor suggests you start off your New Year, it’s new greens if that’s the meal option you choose.
“I recommend buying fresh greens, because greens, like any other vegetable, the longer they have been picked the less flavor they have,” she said. “When collard greens cook for six hours, something happens with them chemically and they become very sweet. But if they aren’t fresh, you can cook them for days and they will never be sweet.”
And if there’s one thing one wishes for their associations with cash, coins and gold to be in the coming year, it’s sweet.