Down here we eat black-eyed peas and collard greens on New Years. For some of us a coin is thrown in the pea pot and stirred in real good, the finder is the luckiest by far at a table spell where everyone who eats gets a little booster shot of luck for the next 12 months.
Now you may wonder, how on earth did this pagan tradition make its way jnto the lexicon of good Godly southern tradition? Well, not surprisingly, it probably came from the most backslidingest of God’s people, who are his chosen people, tell you something about God huh. Eating black-eyed peas at Rosh Hashana may have been first recorded in the Babylonian Talmud in about 500 CE, where a prescription for luck suggests not only foods, but table settings for the family gathering. The Talmud menu suggests leeks, black-eyed peas, beets, spinach, and dates. It sure sounds like a good meal too! You should also throw a bottle gourd on that table, they sure are pretty to look at, but I’m gonna fill that gourd with beer cause I’m a little bit Irish/ a little bit English.
If that sounds too much like a tall tale, then I got another one that might sound more likely to your heathenish ear. This one goes back to the War of Northern Aggression, where our Gentry got up their danders about not being able to treat humans like plow mules, and decided to take their ball and go home. Then a few years later and a mighty lot of poor folk’s bodies buried in perfectly good pastures Northern troops, led by the sinister anti-Christ General William Tecumseh Sherman begrimed southern soil and sullied the larders from the Mississippi all the way to the Atlantic. But for some reason he decided to spare the livestock from their defilements leaving them their poorly foods including “field peas” and field corn, and we can only assume collards too, cause there they are on the table beside the cornbread. Evidently Mr. Sherman didn’t know the southern Mama can fatten her babies on most anything, even animal feed, as long as she’s got a salted hamhock in her smokehouse. Now you may be wondering, “what in tarnation does all that hooey have to do with New Years and luck?”
Well, lets look at that table, “mmmmmm don’t that just smell so good. You know, as an aside, I sure miss my Gran’ma and Gran’pa, I didn’t eat enough blackeyed peas with them cause my Gran’pa went home early, and then I was out all them years wandering around in the world while my Gran’ma was gettin’ on… anyways… lets get on with the story.”
We got cabbage, but only because we had collards just the other day. We live in zone USDA 8 1/2 so the brassicas (most of em) grow right through the winter. Collards are particularly hardy surviving down to single digits for a couple of hours, so we eat a lot of greens during the winter, which is really kinda lucky in its own right. We can’t talk about the greens though without talking about our greatest seasoning secret, PORK, not really a secret at all, huh. I remember the first year I brought friends home from college, one of them was a vegetarian, and Mom made an amazing meal of vegetables, but of course they were all seasoned with pork, because pork isn’t meat, it’s flavor, just like basil or a good curry powder.
The peas soak overnight so they plump up when cooked. They’re a thickening agent too, giving the broth a toasted roux color. We’ve got lots of field peas because they grow like a weed down here. Sure they’re animal fodder, but they also pack the protein of beef which is good because farm chores don’t stop just because it gets a little cold out. There’re fences to build and fences to mend, the barn needs repairs, trees need to be cut and hauled, wood needs chopping and beds need mulching. It’s also breeding time for the goats. So much to do with such short hours to do it in, it’s good to have all those protein calories in your plumb belly.
So the spell is complete! The old ones say the table symbolizes money, peas = pennies, greens = cash, the cornbread is gold, and the pig roots forward which can represent intention through the year. Put a penny in the pot so the whole spell takes off. I don’t really get wrapped up in the symbols as much as the food itself, how they came to be both historically, and as a recapping of the labors of the previous year and their continuity for the next year.
Happy 2015 Everyone, eat well & work hard!