Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ringin' in the New Year Right!

I'm sure every culture in the world has a way of celebrating the start of a new year, but here in the South, we like to ring it in with food, steeped in tradition and seasoned with a dash of superstition. As a child, I was told that midnight could not come and go without black-eyed peas, collard greens, and hog jowl. It sounds like a pretty weird combination, and it's one my mom desperately tried to avoid. That's why we, like many modern Southerns, usually ended up  with a combination more akin to cooked spinach, black-eyed peas, and ham. That's close enough and absolutely essential for starting the year right.

It’s interesting how these traditions started. Some stories say that Union soldiers looting their way across the South left only “animal fodder,” such as peas and greens, to sustain man and beast alike. Somewhere along the way, greens became symbolic of dollars and peas of coins, edible talismans for financial prosperity in the year to come.

Hog jowl is a fatty cut of pork from the cheek of a pig. Smoked or cured, it can be used to flavor both peas and greens or fried like bacon. The only honest to goodness hog jowl I've ever eaten was at Lambert's Cafe in Sikeston, Missouri (http://www.throwedrolls.com/), and it was pretty tasty. Eating rich pork products, like jowl, on New Year’s Eve is supposed to bring good luck for the future.

Another superstition is that cornbread should be eaten with the above meal to represent gold and further prosperity. I didn't hear this part of the New Year's tradition until I was grown, but as it happens, cornbread is the perfect complement to peas and greens. Lucky or not, it's welcome on my table any time.
New York can have their lighted ball and Pasadena their roses. Give me a bowl of hot greens and a kiss at midnight, and I’m set for another great year!

Happy New Year!

1 comment:

  1. Well - after all these years, that's still not my choice of foods for celebrating a new year. Love the superstition but not the food! We had crowder peas, ham, hashbrown casserole, and cornbread - southern enough for me...