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I hope you all had a lovely Christmas holiday. It being a difficult year (again), I know a lot of folks had a hard time getting into the holiday spirit. I did to some extent, as well. However, over the holidays I got to reconnect with some dearly loved friends and family, which helped tremendously. I can’t say I necessarily felt Christmassy, but it was happy, and in the words of Wings, “that’s enough.”
Moving forward to New Year’s, I feel it’s a prime time to visit one of my absolute favorite legumes – black-eyed peas. They’re versatile, they’re delicious, and a wonderful holiday tradition. The tradition of eating black-eyed peas for New Year’s in the south is quite an old one.
In case you’re unaware, black-eyed peas are traditionally eaten on New Year’s as a means of inviting good luck into the home. If you’re feeling particularly low in fiber, it’s considered to be extra lucky to eat 365 of them, one for each day of the new year.
Why is this? I’ll get to it. Gimme a sec.
These beans (that’s right, they’re not peas) go back a ways. They were served back in prehistoric China and India and were considered to be a preferred alternative to eating chickpeas in ancient Rome and Greece. They were brought to the Americas as early as 1674 as a result of slave trade and remained a staple of the slave diet. Fields of black-eyed peas were actually ignored by General Sherman’s sacking of the south, as his troops were unaware of them as a source of nutrition.
See, Sherman’s army didn’t just disrupt a few cities, as many often think. Traveling along the eastern coast, General Sherman’s forces attacked multiple cities that served as vital ports for sailing in new supplies. By damaging these vital stations, it was the same as burning the entire south. Without supplies coming in from the north (obviously), damaging supply lines to the east was a real handicap.
Thus, those who had fields of black-eyed peas were considered to be lucky, because they would still be left with crops to eat and sell. Hence why we consider them to be so lucky today.
There is something emblematic about the black-eyed pea in southern identity. Even though it has its own rich history, it is often overlooked as a contributor to the American diet. It may take time to see and appreciate the importance of something so humble. However, if we take the time to treasure it, then we are all the better for it.