“AS GOD IS MY WITNESS, I’LL NEVER BE HUNGRY AGAIN.” Scarlett O’Hara, Gone with the Wind
Nana would come north every year before Thanksgiving and stay until after the New Year celebration. Like every Southerner, superstitious or not, she knew that certain foods are required for an auspicious start to the year. The ham she ordered could be relied upon to arrive just after Christmas, and preparations would begin immediately for New Year’s Day. Her menu required pork for good health, black-eyed peas for good luck, greens for prosperity, cornbread so that wealth increases and a cake in the shape of a ring to represent the successful completion of the past year.
A fat pig symbolized plenty to eat in the New Year and, because pigs root forward as they eat, they are associated with progress and embracing challenges. While a southerner hopes that the rich fat content in pork will bring wealth and prosperity (fat pig, fat wallet), she knows there are some foods to avoid on New Year’s Day. Fowl scratch backwards for food (who wants to scratch for a living) and are associated with regret and dwelling on the past. And winged fowl could cause good luck to fly away. Worse yet, eating lobsters, which actually move backwards, could bring setbacks in the new year.
Black-eyed peas aren’t actually peas, they’re a variety of bean categorized as legumes (both seeds and pods are edible) that grow in oddly-shaped pods that can be more than a foot long. They have been cultivated in China and India since pre-historic times and also were eaten by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Black-eyed peas were transported from West Africa to the West Indies by slaves, and reached the lowcountry coastal regions of Georgia and the Carolinas via the slave trade more than 300 years ago. Grown as “cowpeas” in rest of country to feed cattle, in the south they became a drought resistant staple.
The Civil War made them an auspicious New Year’s Day food when fields of black-eyed peas were ignored by Sherman’s pillaging troops, who destroyed more valuable crops. Rich in nutrients, they enabled Confederate survival. By some accounts, the starving population of Vicksburg, Mississippi survived the Union siege by eating black-eyed peas. Because they can be stored through the winter and planted in the spring to create a new harvest, dried beans represent endurance and renewal, and because they are round they suggest coins. Some southerners will tell you to eat 365 black eyed peas on New Year’s Day, one for each day of New Year, to assure good luck and plenty of pocket change all year long.
Green is the color of money and the color of hope and rebirth, of natural growth, new buds and shoots. Collard greens remind southerners of folding money, and the more greens you eat, the greater your wealth will be in the new year. Cornbread’s color, gold, also suggests prosperity, and since cornbread rises and increases in volume as it cooks, eat it on New Years Day and your wealth will, too.
Cakes also rise while baking and round, particularly ring-shaped cakes signify a successful completion of the old year. And always make more food than you can eat to show confidence in the abundance coming your way in the new year.
MENU: NANA’S NEW YEARS DAY LUNCH