Happy New Year!
I wish all my readers "Around the Banks of the Suwannee" all the best for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2020! I hope you eat your black eyed peas and greens; black eyed peas for good luck and greens for money. I have often thought about this southern culinary tradition, and I decided to do a little research. This is what I found out.
General William Tecumseh Sherman, a name not revered in much of the South, especially in the state of Georgia, made his famous march from Atlanta to the sea, from Nov. 15, 1864, to Dec. 21, 1864. He left the city of Atlanta in ashes and gave a general order to all of those who were part of his federal troops, in the south, we would say "Yankee" troops, to "forage liberally on everything in their path.” The federal army took this order seriously and killed or "procured" most everything in their path as they marched the army to deliver Savannah, Georgia, as a Christmas present to President Abraham Lincoln. They also burned a great deal that was beautiful in the state of Georgia, and it is said that Sherman told folks that he would "fix" the state of Georgia so that a crow flying across it would have to carry his own rations. He just about succeeded. He did not burn the town of Madison, Georgia, as a friend of a former roommate of his at West Point lived there, and he stated Madison, Georgia, was simply too beautiful to burn.
The northern conquerors, though, in this War of "Northern Aggression" considered dried field peas animal food and, therefore, left many bins and silos full of dried peas on farms, in towns, and on plantations across the now, humbled state of Georgia. The New Year's holiday was a bleak one for most people in the state of Georgia that year of 1864 looking into 1865 which brought an end to the war in April 1865 as the South surrendered after four bloody years of Civil War.
Back to the story. In many cases about all southerners in Georgia had left to eat was field peas and dried corn. They soaked their field peas, tried to scour around and find a piece of salt pork for seasoning. Maybe found a few turnip, collards or mustard greens, and used the cracked corn to make meal for cornbread and had, for southerners, an edible and delicious meal for New Year's Day in 1865.
From that time forward, many people in the south have enjoyed black eyed peas, greens, and maybe cornbread as a traditional meal on New Year's Day. Supposedly the dried black eyed peas are considered good luck, not only because they were left behind by the "Yankee" conquerors of the south, but because when you soak them, they swell. Greens, mustard, turnips or collards are considered good luck, as they represent "money" with their green color, and the cured pork meat used to season the black eyed peas and greens is considered good luck, as hogs are natural foragers, and a hog's foot is shaped so that it moves forward indicating "forward movement.”
There may be true historians, which I am not, I am more of a “storyteller," who could probably relate this account to you in more scholarly language. If they can, I hope they will. I simply found it interesting and felt most of my readers would find it interesting too.
Truthfully, I have always enjoyed the rational New Year's Day meal much better than Christmas. I love turkey and dressing, ham, etc. but, one can get so weighted (literally) down with so many choices of foods at Christmas that, to me, at least, it is kind of refreshing to enjoy a meal made from simple but delicious fare on New Year's Day. I love it. Black eyed peas seasoned with hog jowls, mustard, collard or turnip greens, seasoned with pig knuckles or hog jowls served on top of rice, maybe with some onion cut up on top for good measure, and cornbread, and you have a wonderful and delicious meal symbolizing "good luck " and "good fortune.”
In some parts of the South, black eyed peas are cooked with a "dime" in the pot. Whoever finds the "dime" in their helping of black eyed peas has the "most" luck of any of the guests. This was not a tradition in our home, but I have eaten with folks who follow this practice.
From "Around the Banks of the Suwannee,” where I know many of my readers enjoy good southern fare not only on New Year's Day, but all year long, I wish you, once again, a Happy New Year.
And from the Eight Mile Still on the Woodpecker Route, north of White Springs, I wish you a day filled with joy, peace, and, above all, lots of love and laughter. Happy New Year!!!