For anyone who has taken this tradition for granted, here’s its origin.
We are a region of long held superstitions. We paint our porch ceilings light blue to stave off the “haints.” We hang mirrors outside our garden and save old wine, sparkling water, and even Bud Platinum bottles to put on dead tree branches for the same reason. We won’t invite 13 guests to dinner nor will we leave a rocking chair without ceasing its motion to ward off illness and misfortune.
But perhaps one of our longest held traditions is that of eating black-eyed peas and collard greens in some form on New Year's Day. In fact, this tradition is so pervasive throughout the Southeast that black-eyed peas appear in recipes as varied as Cowboy Caviar in Texas to Hoppin’ John in Alabama to Peas with Ham up in North Carolina.
According to legendary Southern food researcher John Egerton’s Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, In History, black-eyed peas are associated with a “mystical and mythical power to bring good luck.” As for collard greens, they’re green like money and will ensure you a financially prosperous new year. And isn’t that all what we want anyway?
There’s evidence that people ate black-eyed peas for luck as early as 500 A.D. as a part of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. But the tradition of eating black-eyed peas with rice is African in origin and spread throughout the South, especially in the Carolinas, in the form of pilaus or rice dishes simmered for a long time with chicken or shrimp. When black-eyed peas were added to the pilau, it became Hoppin’ John.
If you serve peas with cornbread, it represents gold, and if they are stewed with tomatoes, it symbolizes wealth and health. Although we don’t endorse this practice, some people will even put a penny or a dime inside the pot of peas. Whoever is “lucky” enough to receive the coin will have the most luck for the rest of the year.
You’ll even find black-eyed peas and collards on restaurant menus and daily specials throughout the South as the New Year approaches. Here our favorite ways to get in our Hoppin’ John and collard greens for the New Year.