Vicksburg Black Eyed Peas

Bill Seratt

December 27, 2017

Black-Eyed Peas Bring Good Luck for the New Year

Black-eyed peas were introduced into American vegetable gardens in the Southern United States as early as the 17th century in Virginia.  Cultivation became greater in Florida and the Carolinas during the 18th century.  Today the black-eyed pea is still a widely used ingredient in soul food and cuisines of the Southern United States.  The planting of crops of black-eyed peas was promoted by George Washington Carver because, as a legume, it adds nitrogen to the soil and has high nutritional value.  Black-eyed peas are now grown in warm climates around the world and are used in wide variety of dishes.

The humble black-eyed pea, also known as cowpea, comes packed with a host of nutritional benefits.  One or two servings of black-eyed peas per day can help fight chronic inflammation.  Loaded with high levels of dietary fiber, the black-eyed pea helps to keep the digestive system healthy by helping cleanse waste from the digestive system.  Black-eyed peas are rich in iron and help prevent anemia.  Black-eyed peas are also rich in potassium, a mineral that helps keep blood pressure levels at healthy numbers and lowers the risk of heart disease.  Black-eyed peas are especially high in folate which helps the body make new cells.  In addition, black-eyed peas are surprisingly high in vitamin A.  Vitamin A helps to form and maintain healthy skin and mucus membranes and produces the pigments in the retina of the eye.

In the Southern United States, eating black-eyed peas or Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day is thought to bring prosperity in the new year.  The peas are typically cooked with a pork product for flavoring such as bacon, fatback, ham bones or hog jowls, diced onion and served with chili sauce or pepper sauce.  The traditional meal also includes collard, turnip or mustard greens and ham.  The peas, since they swell when cooked, symbolize prosperity; the greens symbolize money; the pork, because pigs root forward when foraging, represents positive motion.  Cornbread, which represents gold, also often accompanies the meal.

There are several legends as to the origin of this custom.  Two popular explanations for the South’s association with peas and good luck date back to the American Civil War.  The first is associated with General William T. Sherman’s march of the Union Army to the sea, during which they pillaged the Confederates’ food supplies.  Stories say peas and salted pork were said to be have been left untouched, because of the belief that they were animal food unfit for human consumption.  Southerners considered themselves lucky to be left with some supplies to help them survive the winter, and black-eyed peas evolved into a representation of good luck.  In another Southern tradition, black-eyed peas became a symbol of the emancipation for African-Americans who had previously been enslaved, and who after the Civil War were officially freed on New Year’s Day.

A 1-cup serving of cooked black-eyed peas contains about 33.5 grams of carbs, just over 5 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of fat and 160 calories.  You can purchase dried or canned black-eyed peas at your local grocer.  No doubt, the dried peas are the best.  In selecting dried peas, look for those that are dry, firm, uniform in color and not shriveled.  Good luck for 2018 and enjoy New Year’s Southern style with a pot of black-eyed peas cooked with pork, a pot of greens and a big juicy ham.  Don’t forget the cornbread!

Oh, and about that cornbread, here is recipe from the Junior Auxiliary of Vicksburg cookbook, Ambrosia, that mixes the prosperity of black-eyed peas and the gold of cornbread for your New Year’s enjoyment.   

IMG-4458Black-eyed Pea Cornbread

1              (15.5-ounce) black-eyed peas seasoned with bacon and jalapeno pepper, do not drain

1              cup cornmeal

½             cup flour

1              teaspoon soda

2              eggs, slightly beaten

1              cup buttermilk

½             cup oil

½             pound cheddar cheese, grated

1              onion, chopped

¾             cup cream-style corn

1              pound ground beef, browned and drained

                picante sauce

Mix all ingredients except picante sauce.  

Pour into a greased 9 X 13 X 2 inch pan.  

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  

Let cool for about before cutting into squares.  

Top each square with picante sauce, if desired.

You can grab a copy of Ambrosia at the Vicksburg Visitors Information Center! Happy New Year!