Superstition says these foods will bring you luck in the new year
Southern food chef Virginia Willis said there was only one year out of her life when she didn’t eat collard greens and black-eyed peas. And that year didn’t go so well for her.
Black-eyed peas and collard greens are traditional dishes to eat on Jan. 1, with the hope that peas will bring luck and the greens will bring money throughout the year.
The cuisine is popular among southern food lovers. In fact, a dish called hoppin’ john, which combines rice, black-eyed peas and sometimes collard greens, can be found on plenty of southern restaurant menus.
“We didn’t grow up calling it hoppin’ johns,” said Willis, a Georgia native. “It wasn’t cooked together. It was a pot of greens and a pot of rice and a pot of black-eyed peas.”
Traditionally, ham hock is used to flavor the peas and the greens. But Willis put her own vegetarian spin on the dish, replacing the black-eyed peas with Sea Island red peas and exchanging the smoked ham hock with a Parmesan rind. She usually completes this meal with cornbread.
“The southern application of peas and rice definitely comes from West Africa,” she said.
During slavery, Willis said, slave masters favored the West Africans who knew how to produce rice so it could be grown on their plantations in America.
But it wasn’t West Africans who started the myth about eating collard greens and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. Adrian Miller, an expert and historian on southern food who published two books on the subject, said those ideas originated in Europe.
“What’s so interesting is that white people started to think black people came up with this,” he said.
Germans would eat pork, lentils, cabbage and dumplings on New Year’s Day, Miller said. The pork represented health and prosperity because pigs always looked forward and never backward. Lentils represented gold. Cabbage and collard greens represented paper money. And the dumplings represented silver dollars.
Miller also mentioned that in Europe, black-eyed peas meant good luck and having coins. It also represented a black eye or evil eye, and eating it signified conquering it.
Miller eats black-eyed peas and collard greens every New Year’s Day for the enjoyment – not because the myths hold true for him.
“Every year you hope it’s going to be different, but I just think it’s fun,” he said.
Here’s a list of other traditional foods that are eaten to celebrate the new year:
• Soba noodles: In Japan, the soba noodle has to be slurped whole without breaking the noodle before chewing, according to Today.com. The noodle represents a long and prosperous life.
• Grapes: CNN reported that the people of Spain munch on grapes when the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 1. The grapes represent the coming months of the new year.
• Fish: The scales on a fish represent coins, according to Reader’s Digest. Fish also represents abundance because they travel in schools.
• Pomegranate: The juicy fruit is a popular New Year’s Eve food in the Mediterranean region. Reader’s Digest also reported that the people of Greece traditionally smash the pomegranate against the front door at midnight. The more seeds come out, the more lucky the household will be.
• Doughnuts and bagels: MarthaStewart.com said circular-shaped foods represent the year coming full circle.
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