It’s been a dizzying year from the disappearance of Malaysian Airline Flight MH370, to Germany winning the World Cup in Brazil, outbreak of the Ebola Virus, civil unrest in America and LeBron James going back to the Cavilers.
Yes 2014, we must bid you adieu so we can usher in a new year with new solutions, possibilities and opportunities.
In the United States, the New Year comes in with much fanfare and tradition, like the New Year’s Eve Times Square ball drop.
But on the home front – well my home front and perhaps yours – I, my mom, brother, sister, West Coast and Southern family are getting ready to celebrate the New Year with an old tradition – a lucky pot of black eye peas. It’s a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation.
Black eye peas are believed to have originated in North African. Grown as feed for livestock in the states, they became a staple food of enslaved African people brought to America. Whether this is history or folklore, I can’t remember a New Year’s Day without them.
I also can’t remember a New Year’s Day without the smell of smoked ham hocks wafting through the house and the sound of a tilted stock pot lid clanking back and forth on the stovetop, as the smoked meat vigorously boiled in water into to a rich and flavorful stock fit for the awaiting black eye peas.
That pot of black eyes peas was like New Year’s gold. It became the preface to a great new year. Without them, you were taking your chances. With them, tradition says you were poised for a lucky and prosperous New Year. Have a side of greens (like collards) with those black eye peas, and more of the green stuff, you know money, was destined to come your way. Pair that with a generous hunk of cornbread – which represents gold – and golden moments and memories would fill the New Year.
My family also practiced another New Year’s Day tradition that I clearly remember. Early each New Year’s Day morning, the men of my family, travelling in pairs, would visit family members’ homes and wish them a Happy New Year. Family folklore said that for good luck in the New Year, the first person that crossed your threshold must be a man. I spoke with two of my dad’s remaining brothers, Uncle Moot and Uncle Tim. They said this practice dates back to the time of our enslaved relatives and it’s something they remember their father and grandfather doing while growing up in Alabama.
I love this tradition. While I can’t dispatch my pair of well wishing uncles to your door on New Year’s Day to bring you good luck, I can leave you with a recipe for a lucky pot of black eye peas.
I call it Sassy Black Eye Peas because the use of Summer Savory, better known as the bean herb, gives ordinary black eye peas a little “tude” which you will need to take on the solutions, challenges and opportunities of the New Year. I’ve been making this recipe for over 25 years and the only place I know to get Summer Savory by Spice Islands is at Ralphs or Kroger Market. Settle for no substitutions on this one. Just one teaspoon of this indispensable, peppery herb makes the best pot of black eye peas to start your New Year off right. Happy New Year!
Sassy Black Eye Peas
1 to 1 ¼ pounds smoked ham hocks or turkey parts (necks, tails, wings)
13 cups water
1 pound dried black eye peas
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
½ cup chopped green bell pepper
5 cloves chopped garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 generous teaspoon Spice Islands Summer Savory
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (go a full teaspoon if you like)
Cracked pepper to taste
1 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
2 cups organic chicken stock
Add smoked meat to a large pot. Fill with 13 cups of cold water and boil for 1 hour. Turn off the heat. The broth that remains will be rich and flavorful. The smoked meat will be somewhat tender.
Add prepared peas* and all remaining ingredients to the broth and smoked meat contained in the pot. Stir, cover and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer 1 hour, with lid to pot tilted, stirring occasionally. After 1 hour, remove from heat, cover pot with lid to keep in heat. Let stand 30 minutes. Garnish with chopped green onions. Serve with Brazilian Greens and honey cornbread or cooked brown rice.
Preparing black eye peas*
Soak dried peas in 8 cups of water with 1 tablespoon of sea salt in a bowl overnight or least 6 to 8 hours. Drain and rinse peas in cold water.
Or for quick soak method, add 8 cups of hot tap water and 1 tablespoon sea salt to a large pot and bring to a boil. Add dried peas, cover and let stand 1 hour. Drain and rinse peas in cold water.