Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
There are many superstitions surrounding the coming of the New Year. Many cultures have traditions encouraging consumption of certain foods to "guarantee" luck in the coming year. Some of these traditions have become more or less part of mainstream America–one of these is eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day.
There are many variations on the Southern tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. Typically, they are eaten along with turnip greens. Many equate these foods with good luck with money in the New Year, saying that the peas represent copper, and the greens dollars.
Some will insist one must eat 365 black-eyed peas to ensure good luck on each day of the coming year. For even more good fortune, some cooks put a dime into their pot of peas, and the person who finds the dime will have particularly good luck in the New Year.
Another traditional way to cook black-eyed peas is in the dish Hoppin' John, a mixture of peas, rice, meat, and tomato sauce. Linda Stradley, author of I'll Have What They're Having–Legendary Local Cuisine states that food historians believe Hoppin' John has African/French/Caribbean roots. There are many legends about how the name came about, some involving a man named John, some saying that the dish made people come "a-hoppin'" to the table.
Black-eyed peas are also known as cowpeas, crowder peas or southern peas. They are believed to originate in Africa, and were brought to America in colonial times. Peas may be harvested and eaten fresh or dried for later use. Fresh peas may also be canned or frozen.
Black-eyed peas are best planted after the soil has warmed to over 60 degrees Farenheit. They can survive harsh drought conditions, but need well-drained fertile soil rather than heavy wet soil. They are a good choice for improving soil conditions, as they are legumes and so have root nodules containing nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Over time this improves the nutrient profile of the soil.