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Texas History 101

Black-Eyed Peas

By January 2003Comments

WHAT IS THE FIRST THING that comes to mind when you think of New Year’s Eve? Some may say champagne toasts and midnight kisses, but a true Southerner will quickly point to a plateful of black-eyed peas. If you are native to the South, particularly in Texas, it is likely that at some point in your life you have brought in the New Year with a mighty helping of black-eyed peas. Why? For wealth, of course. Some Texans believe that if you eat poor on New Year’s Day, you’ll be rich the rest of the year. For those who aren’t natives but still think they could use a little luck in this economy, a background of this dish and other good luck foods is in order.

There are lucky foods for New Years Eve in countries across the world, but the tradition of black-eyed peas are a southern United States phenomenon. Black-eyed peas are also called cowpeas, china beans, and southern beans.

There are variety of black-eyed pea dishes and combinations consumed by families, based on their own traditions. Some dedicated Southerners believe that eating greens on New Years Eve will also bring wealth in the New Year. Some common greens for this tradition include cabbage, collard greens, kale, and spinach. Not surprisingly, many Texans will choose to eat cornbread with their black-eyed peas. One of the most famous New Years Eve dishes to feature black-eyed peas is Hoppin’ John. This southern favorite, a dish of black-eyed peas cooked with fat pork and rice that originated with the early African slaves, is a testament to the endurance of Southern traditions.

There are many myths floating around about how the tradition of black-eyed peas on New Years came to be. According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, some folklorists believe that the tradition goes all the way back to the Civil War. One myth says that Northern troops destroyed Southern crops and black-eyed peas were the only food left. In this tale, the Southerners were grateful to have anything to survive on, and since black-eyed peas kept them from starvation, they became a testament to the Southerners’ inherent strength. Since the origins folklore can be hard to verify, we have to trust that the tradition was important enough to catch on and continue to this day.

Regardless of the origins, the endurance of food traditions is what links us to the culture and history of our regional roots. New Year’s Eve is a time for celebration and also a good occasion to embrace a little bit of history, folklore, and one remembrance of most Texas New Years’ past.

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