Celebrate a proper Southern New Years: Black-eyed peas, cornbread and mustard greens

traditional southern new years plate

The Southern US is a superstitious place, especially when it comes to welcoming the New Year. The household of my childhood was no exception. Specifically my mother adheres to the traditions that will supposedly usher in happiness, money and just general good luck in the upcoming year.

The two main traditions revolve around eating (of course!). The first is to always enjoy a bowl of black-eyed peas and the second is to follow those peas with a good helping of cooked greens. Black-eyed peas equal good luck and greens mean money. My mother prepares either mustard greens or turnip greens, even though collards is what most folks think of when they think “cooked greens”. Collards are okay, but I prefer mustard greens with their peppery overtones and subtler flavor (and smell!).

A big bowl of black-eyed peas with rice, some mustard greens on the side and a hunk of homemade buttermilk cornbread round out a traditionally southern new years meal. Even if you believe superstitions are all bunk and hooey, with one spoonful of black-eyed peas and a bite of crispy, buttery cornbread and you’ll know today is truly your lucky day.

New Year’s superstitions with a southern twist

  • Empty pockets or empty cupboards on New Years Eve predict a year of poverty.
  • Black-eyed peas bring good luck (see above).
  • Eat greens on News Years Day to bring money in the New Year. Apparently each bite of greens you eat is worth $1000 in the upcoming year.
  • Eat cornbread as its ‘gold’ color represents “coin” money or pocket money. Plus, it goes well with collard greens, peas and pork.
  • On New Years Day avoid:

            Breaking things

            Throwing things away

            Paying back loans or lending money

            Crying

How about you? Do you have any usual superstitions (New Years or not) to share?

From my childhood: Does your ear itch? Then someone is talking about you. Does your nose itch? Then you will kiss a fool within the next 24 hours.

From my mother-in-law Ginny here’s one: If the first words you say on the first day of the month are: “white rabbit”, you’ll have good luck all month. (Sounds sort of “groovy ’60s” to me, but I like it!)

The "four food groups" for a successful Southern style New Year's Day feast: black-eyed peas, cornbread, greens and rice.

The “four food groups” for a successful Southern style New Year’s Day feast: black-eyed peas, cornbread, greens and rice.

Easy black-eyed peas with rice (This is the way I grew up eating black-eyed peas)

  • (1) 10 oz package fresh or rehydrated black-eyed peas* (find in the refrigerated produce section)
  • 2-3 slices hog jowl or 1 small smoked ham hock or 3 slices chopped bacon
  • 1 cup vegetable stock or broth
  • 1 cup water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup sweet onion, chopped (optional)
  • hot sauce (optional)
  • cooked rice

In a medium saucepan (with lid) cook the hog jowl over medium heat until rendered. Add broth, water and black-eyed peas. Stir. Bring heat to a low boil, stir and allow to boil (low to medium boil) about 5 minutes with the lid off. Lower heat to a simmer and cook another 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Lower heat again, add the lid and cook another 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.

Serve on hot cooked rice, topped with chopped sweet onion and hot sauce.

* You can also use dried back eyed peas, however the cooking time will be much longer (several hours) and require more liquid (4-5 cups water or broth in total).

Hoppin’ John: the concoction you hear more often than the plain ‘black-eyed peas and rice’ above. It’s more of a one-pot meal.

(from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking)

  • 1 cup small dried beans such as cowpeas or black-eyes
  • 5 to 6 cups water
  • 1 dried hot pepper (optional)
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about ¾ cup)
  • 
1 cup long-grain white rice

Wash and sort the peas. Place them in the saucepan, add the water, and discard any peas that float. Gently boil the peas with the pepper, ham hock, and onion, uncovered, until tender but not mushy — about 1½ hours — or until 2 cups of liquid remain. Add the rice to the pot, cover, and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes, never lifting the lid. 

Remove from the heat and allow to steam, still covered, for another 10 minutes. Remove the cover, fluff with a fork, and serve immediately.

Mustard greens. Be sure to wash the greens very, very well. All those pretty, fluffy curled sprigs catch every grit of sand they were grown in.

Mustard greens. Be sure to wash the greens very, very well. All those pretty, fluffy curled sprigs catch every grit of sand they were grown in. Trust me – wash them at least 3 times!

You also need to strip the thick stems from the center of each stalk. You just eat the leafy part.

You also need to strip the thick stems from the center of each stalk. You just cook the leafy part.

In a large pot cook the pork - you can use fat back, bacon, pork jowls or here I used pork sides and a pig tail. Yes, that is a fresh piggie tail.  Once that is cooked, add the greens and then the broth/stock.

In a large pot cook the pork – you can use fat back, bacon, pork jowls or here I used pork sides and a pig tail. Yes, that is a fresh piggie tail. Once that is cooked, add the greens and then the broth/stock.

The green will begin to wilt. Then cover and allow to cook on low heat awhile until the green are very tender. Season as you like with salt and pepper. I find that by using vegetable broth/stock I don't need to add extra salt.

The greens will begin to wilt. Then cover and allow to cook on low heat awhile until the green are very tender. Season as you like with salt and pepper. I find that by using vegetable broth/stock I don’t need to add extra salt.

Here are the mustard greens ready for your plate.  If each bite of greens is worth $1000 I'll be be enjoying a HUGE bowl today!

Here are the mustard greens ready for your plate. If each bite of greens is worth $1000, I’ll be be enjoying a HUGE bowl today!

Another shot of my Southern style New Year's Day lucky plate special.

Another shot of my Southern style New Year’s Day lucky plate special.

Mustard greens

  • ½ lb. bacon sides, hog jowls, ham or combination*
  • 1 cup vegetable stock or both
  • salt to taste
  • sugar, optional

Wash the mustard greens 3 or 4 times in fresh water, draining them each time. This is very important – tiny bits of sand cling to greens and will ruin all your hard work if you do not wash them thoroughly. Strip the leafy part from the stems and add the stems to your compost bin.

In a large pot cook the bacon, hog jowls or ham until rendered, about 3-4 minutes. Add the leafy mustard greens. Stir together until greens start to wilt. Add the vegetable stock. Stir again. If necessary, add another splash of broth. Stir and allow to cook, covered, on low heat until greens are tender, at least 45 minutes. Stir frequently and do not allow the greens to burn. Season with a little salt – to your taste. Usually I find they need no additional salt. I’ve heard some people add a bit of sugar – 1 teaspoon – but greens are meant to be tangy and mustard greens are peppery so I’ll leave that up to you!

Serve with malt vinegar or pepper vinegar if desired.

* I  used a fresh pig’s tail and several slices of pork sides (pork belly)

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