Friday, December 30, 2005

what's with the black-eyed peas?

As long as I can remember, New Year's Day meant black-eyed peas. It also meant ham and cornbread, because that's why my family always ate with black-eyed peas. The peas were for good luck, they told me.

When we moved to Boston fifteen years ago, I went to the local supermarket in Charlestown to buy some black-eyed peas. I searched the dried beans, I searched the canned beans -- no luck. Finally, I asked the store manager if they carried them.

"Shu-ah (which is Boston for "sure")," he said, "they're in the ethnic section.

Thank God for Goya.

This morning I did a little surfing to find out why black-eyed peas on New Year's? I found three explanations.

The first -- from a guy in Florida, I think -- said the dish promised prosperity: the peas represented coins and the collard greens (which he cooked alongside) represented folding money.

The second -- from a farmer in Arkansas -- said the role the peas played in crop rotation put nitrogen back in the soil and enriched it for the coming crop.

The third -- from the deep South -- said troops from the North raided the camps of the Southern soldiers one New Year's Eve and all they had were black-eyed peas.

When I come home from work tonight I will start soaking the dried beans to get ready for our New Year's party on Sunday afternoon. Since the house will be filled, mostly, with folks who did not grow up in a pea-eating tradition, I'm going to fix them three ways (one, I suppose, for each story): traditionally, with some ham, garlic, and a little sugar -- and cornbread on the side; as a variation on "Chile Macho," a recipe from my mother (a can of green chiles, a can of Ro-tel tomatoes, one diced onion, two cups of cooked black-eyed peas, 2 T vinegar, Salt, and sugar); and as Akkras, a West African bean fritter (2 cups soaked -- but not cooked -- peas, 1 chopped onion, 1 fresh red chile seeded and chopped -- all put in the food processor -- and oil for frying).

One way or another, everyone will get a taste of good fortune.

Peace,
Milton

PS -- I sent some of you an invitation to be a member of this blog. I didn't realize the catch was you had to creat a blog of your own. I didn't mean to create any obligations. Sorry.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

milton,
your blog has become part of my morning routine, with my coffee of course. thank you for sharing your love of food, your friends, and most of all your incredible gift at using words to chronicle life. i am so grateful that i never have to eat alone! happy new year's eve!
cherryberry

Jennifer Maiser said...

Thanks for giving us this background ... I made black eyed peas on the 1st to the questioning of my dinner guests who had never even heard of the tradition. Now I have some sort of answer for them!

atticus said...

oh my gosh...3 kinds of black-eyed peas and i missed 'em completely this year...my folks being from east texas, they meant a prosperous new year....maybe i'll use your first recipe for chinese new year---coming just around the corner.....reading some of your stuff reminds me of how wonderful it is to eat around the table with my chinese family....esp. in malaysia.....they LIVE to eat...but it's really the talking about what they're going to eat that is what they love...such fun

don't eat alone said...

the talking is the fun part. and the black-eyed pea fritters disappeared faster than anything on our table new year's day.

peace
milton