New Year’s traditions are fraught with superstition. Grappling with the end of an era and beginning anew can be daunting, so it’s no surprise there are countless beliefs associated with easing the transition. If only there was a way to ensure good fortune for the next twelve months, surely that would provide a bit of comfort. Everyone has their own unique approach especially when it comes to guaranteeing good luck, though at the end of the day, it often comes back to the dinner table.
Black-eyed peas are famously linked with good luck, particularly in the southern states, sometimes causing a run on the humble staple in times of scarcity (otherwise known as supply chain disruptions in our modern day.) Native to West Africa, the dish began life as an all-purpose celebratory food without specific meaning, eaten for any joyous occasion. The peas could be seen as a charm to ward off the Evil Eye, and because they were numerous, growing in size when they cooked, they could represent growing fortunes or families.
Enslaved West Africans brought these traditions with them to the south, melding cultures to find New Year’s Day the best time for such an auspicious food. Their popularity spread just like the prolific field pea itself, spilling over into all households; good food is a universal language, after all. Some add greens into the mix to symbolize paper money, and the addition of cornbread is like gilding the bowl with gold leaf, in addition to simply being delicious. This is often known as Hoppin’ John, though the origin of the name is highly debated.
Considering such a wealth of historic flavor, I didn’t want to mess this up. I’ve made black-eyed peas before, but I never fully understood the significance. For an impoverished people that could count beans as currency, the tenacity, strength, and optimism it would take to proceed into another 365 days in good spirits is unimaginable. I have a hard enough time feeling positive about the future on a good day, and I’m aware of just how incredibly fortunate I am already.
In keeping with the spirit of the dish, I’m hoping that it will help increase my wealth this year, because I’m entering it in the Big Mountain Foods Recipe Contest! You can find out more about this dynamic meatless brand on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Taking the place of a customary ham hock or turkey wing, Lion’s Mane Mushroom Crumble adds an extra layer of umami along with a considerable protein punch. Though unconventional, I think it’s natural for the dish to continue to evolve as further cultural fusion occurs. Even before crafty cooks had access to a global palate of flavors, no two bowls of black-eyed peas would ever taste the same. Everyone has their own take on the concept, and of course, everyone’s own rendition is indisputably the best.
I need all the luck I can get heading into 2022, so I doubled up on auspicious offerings by putting cornbread right into the bowl. Rather than a fluffy square of golden corn, baked separately, I made mine as buttery dumplings that simmer right in the broth. It’s quicker, easier, and adds a satisfying heft and delightful chew, almost like fluffy cornmeal gnocchi.
No matter how you celebrate the coming New Year, I hope it’s full of pennies, dollars, and gold, literally and figuratively.