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The tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is one for which most Southerners need no encouragement. In almost every home on New Year’s Day, blackeyed peas in one form or another will be served. We believe that they will bring us luck in the coming year, so we eat them to shore up our chances.
Blackeyed peas have always been one of my favorite foods. I eat them fresh in summer and dried during the winter. Either way, a big hoecake of cornbread and fresh cabbage slaw or a mess of collard greens alongside makes a complete meal for me. For those who must have meat with their meal, a piece of smoked ham, a ham hock, or a pork chop are palate pleasing accompaniments.
Black-eyed peas were a very important part of my childhood in rural Mississippi. Daddy planted rows of them in the garden in early summer. When they were mature, we picked them regularly, for they did not all mature at the same time. Long hours were spent shelling and processing the peas for the freezer. Toward the end of the summer after we had frozen all we wanted, peas were left on the vine until they became overly mature and started drying.
These, too, were picked. We put them on a blanket or tarpaulin in a sunny place to dry thoroughly, after which we threshed them to remove the hulls. The dried peas were stored in burlap feed sacks (croker sacks, we called them) and hung in the room where our jams and other canned goods were stored.
During the winter, Mother dipped out cupfuls of them as needed to fill a pot that would feed her hungry children. She washed and picked through them to remove any trash or unsound peas and then left them to soak for a couple of hours or overnight. The next day, she added some bacon drippings, a ham bone, bacon, or ham hocks, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and boiled them until they were tender. She made a large hoecake of cornbread to accompany them. That, along with some tender greens from the winter garden (usually turnips, collards, mustard greens, or cabbage), fed us many a winter day.
These dried peas added significantly to the nutrition of my parents' family of seven children. Naturally low in fat, containing no cholesterol, a plethora of vitamins and minerals, and high in fiber, the lowly black-eyed pea was a sound nutritional choice. A half-cup serving counts as one ounce of lean meat in the Food Guide Pyramid.
To this day, black-eyed peas remain one of my favorite foods. I usually prepare them just as Mother did. I've become a bit more adventurous and learned to make tasty dips, salads, and other recipes that incorporate this wholesome food. Amiable Spouse and I eat them whenever we get a hankering for a downhome, tasty meal.
One way we enjoy them on busy days is in pea sandwiches. I drain leftover peas and mash them with a fork. To this I add diced onions and bell peppers, some diced sweet pickles, a bit of Tobasco or Louisiana hot sauce, and enough mayonnaise to make the mixture spread easily. This tasty filling, topped with fresh sliced tomatoes or salsa makes a lip-smacking good sandwich.
The lowly black-eyed pea, once a primary food for slaves, can be found in the most upscale homes and parties in all parts of the country. Health conscious people have discovered its nutritional merits and palate-pleasing attributes. Black-eyed peas are a prime ingredient in all manner of fancy dips and soups. A search on the internet will reveal a plethora of great recipes. Choose one to fit your tastes and whip up a batch to get your New Year off to a good start.
Blackeyed pea (Vigna unguiculata subsp. unguiculata), Fabaceae (bean) family
Grown around the world for its medium-sized, edible bean
Popular food in the Southern United States and beyond, often called "soul food"
Picture of black-eyed peas in bowl with hamhock by Michel Aaij, Wikipedia, Public Domain
Picture of black-eyed pea plant Public Domain USA (copyright expired)
About Marie Harrison
Serving as a board member for Valparaiso Garden Club, the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs and the Deep South Region, and National Garden Clubs takes a chunk of my time and attention. Being a Master Flower Show Judge, a Floral Design Instructor, instructor of horticulture for National Garden Clubs, and a University of Florida Master Gardener crowds a bit more into my busy days. In addition to these activities, I contribute regularly to Florida Gardening magazine and other publications. I am author of four gardening books, all published by Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida. Read about them and visit me at www.mariesgardenanddesign.com.