Traditional New Year's Menu: Why We Eat Certain Foods
I grew up in the south with the belief that eating black-eye peas, hog-jowl, collard greens and cornbread for the New Year will bring you good luck, health, wealth, and prosperity. But I was curious how this tradition first started, so I did a little research and reflected on some of the memories my mama shared.
The legend of the black-eye peas goes back to the Civil War. The Union troops ruined all the southern crops and raided the Confederate's food supply. They left behind black-eyed peas and salted pork because it was animal food, deemed unworthy for General Sherman's Union troop. The Confederate's survived the winter months by eating black-eye peas, which became symbolic for luck and humble beginnings.
Black-eye peas were also symbolic for Black People during slavery, even though initially it was animal food, but traditional New Year’s food evolved over the years, and we now consider it ‘soul food’. Black-eye peas was the only food that Black People had to celebrate on January 1, 1863, the first day when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.
Hog-Jowl is the celebratory meat for New Year. This pork is cured or smoked, and it’s used to season the black-eye peas. So what is hog-jowl? It’s the cheek of the hog, and it tastes like a thick-cut of bacon. I remember my mama telling me back in the days of slavery, her great grandparents would eat the part of the hog that the plantation owners wouldn’t eat; the pig feet, tails, and the guts (chitlins). My mom used to cook chitlins on New Year and served with hot sauce. I would eat only one chitlin to keep up with tradition, because the scent of prepping chitlins lingered in my nostrils like an out-house overflowing with poop, and no ventilation.
Traditionally, the pig symbolize progress, wealth, and health. The bigger the pig, the more you will prosper throughout the year. And since the pig can’t turn their heads without turning their entire body, it’s believed that the pig is always looking to the future; a perfect fit for New Year’s Day.
Collard greens and cornbread are always on our New Year’s menu. In the South collard greens are plentiful and represents money. My grandma used to say each bit of greens you eat is worth $1000.00 you’re getting throughout the year. And cornbread represents pocket money, loose change, or gold. If you calculate your earnings and savings throughout the year, there may be some merit to this saying.
Now that I had a chance to look back over the years, I hadn’t strayed too far from the traditional New Year’s menu with my own family. I’m not rich from all the greens I eat on New Year’s day, but I am blessed. This year I cooked something a little different, same traditional New Year's menu, but in a bowl instead of a plate. I cooked black-eye pea soup with hog-jowl, collard greens, over rice with cornbread, also known as Hoppin' John, and it was delicious!
What was on your New Year's menu?
Happy New Year!