According to Southern folklore, black-eyed peas should be the first food eaten on New Year’s Day for luck and prosperity in the year ahead. The practice is believed to date back to the Civil War. General Sherman’s troops stripped areas of the south of all stored food, crops and livestock, but they left the black-eyed pea crops untouched. Black-eyed peas were first planted to feed livestock, and the troops ignored the beans, because they were considered animal food. Black-peas became a major food source for surviving Confederates.
Another suggested beginning to the tradition has to do with Sephardi Jews immigrating to the Southern U.S. in the the 1730s. Black-eyed peas have always been a traditional New Year’s Day food for Jewish people who customarily eat them on Rosh Hashanah. The tradition was recorded in the Babylonian Talmud, compiled circa 500 CE, although it is possible that the custom may have resulted from an early mistranslation of the Aramaic word for fenugreek. It is believed that non-Jews in the South adopted the Jewish tradition around the time of the Civil War.
It is also believed that eating simple black-eyed peas shows humility and a lack of vanity. The humble nature of the legume is demonstrated in the old expression, “Eat poor on New Year’s, and eat fat the rest of the year.” It is also said that because dried beans greatly expand in volume, they symbolize expanding wealth. Another explanation to the tradition is that dried beans loosely resemble coins. Today in the South, black-eyed peas are served with collard greens, which are said to represent paper money. The dish is often accompanied by cornbread, which symbolizes gold.
Kick off the new year with these tasty black-eyed pea dishes!
Hoppin’ John Burgers with Tempeh Bacon and Spicy Aioli from Dianne’s Vegan Kitchen
Zsu Dever’s Country Hash
Robin Robertson’s Hoppin’ John with Collards
What dishes do you usually celebrate the New Year with?
Sarah K says
Hi Dianne! What a coincidence. I was looking for a new black-eyed pea recipe for the New Year. I knew that they were traditional for the New Year but wasn’t sure why. I made a black-eyed pea salad for a New Year’s Day potluck at your Meetup a few years ago. Odd that you posted this today and I found it on your site today. Best wishes for 2017!
Happy New Year, Sarah!