The Luck of the Black-Eyed Pea
By Delayna Fitzgerald
I was at Sacramento’s farm tank summit eating among some of the most amazing food minds when one of the summit moderators asked me a question I had never thought of before…“What’s your childhood trigger food?”
CHILDHOOD TRIGGER FOOD: The main food dish that encompasses your childhood.
After some thought it hit me… Black. Eyed. Peas. Nope, not Grammy award winning artists.
I’m talking about Black-Eyed Peas, the way I know them. A southern traditional dish that dates all the way back to the civil war. Seeing as how my Grandmother was an African American woman, born and raised in Texas, I understand why this dish is such a family staple.
My grandma made them slow cooked with smoked ham hock, served with fresh green tomatoes from grandpas backyard and a side of crispy hot water corn bread. Just the thought takes me right back to those days spent at grandma’s house.
I was under the impression that Black Eyed Peas were unique to my family experience, so you can bet I was amazed to learn that not only is this a dish of southern tradition with some deep-rooted history; it’s also a symbol of good luck for the New Year. Maybe Will I Am and crew were on to something…
So, why are they lucky?
There are lots of interpretations as to why they’re so lucky, but the most well-known stems from the South’s association with the pea itself. The leftover ham parts and peas were called animal scraps and considered unfit for human consumption by many privileged Southerners at the time. So, this dish was the saving grace for many poor and enslaved southerners worried about where their next meal would come from. They considered themselves LUCKY to have food to help them survive the winter.
The Peas swell when they are cooked which symbolizes prosperity. The dark leafy greens are a hope for good fortune in the New Year. And because pigs root forward when foraging, the Ham Hock represents the idea of forward motion. Prosperity, Good fortune and Forward motion are positive virtues so its no wonder so many decide to indulge in the tradition on the first of the year.
The identity crisis?
Many people ask if it is a Pea or a Bean? It actually falls in both categories because it is a legume. Both peas and beans are legumes, and both have edible seeds and pods. It’s also referred to as the Cow Pea or Goat Pea.
Enough talk, let’s eat!
According to Southern decorum, the proper way to eat this savory spotted pea/bean is slow cooked with just Black-Eyed Peas, Greens, Smoked Ham Hock, salt and pepper. My Grandma’s secret ingredient: pepperoncini juice.
Does your family feast on Black Eyed peas for the New Year? Share with us below and then enjoy some of these flavorful recipes from our friends at Raley’s. These titans of southern taste should have you have you feeling Lucky all year long. Let’s make 2017 is a good one!
CREOLE BLACK-EYED PEAS
CAJUN SALMON WITH GREENS & BLACK-EYED PEAS
SMOKED TURKEY AND BLACK-EYED PEAS
SOUTHERN BLACK-EYED PEA SOUP
SMOKY BLACK-EYED PEA SOUP