Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)
As we kick off 2009, people across the country are making their new year’s resolutions and families are carrying on with their special traditions to start the year out on a good note. Of course by mid February you should be able to get a close parking spot at the gym since that’s about the time motivation for the fitness resolution begins to wane. However, there are some traditions that endure year after year, particularly in the South where we seem to value our heritage and culture a little more than our friends to the north.
Since I grew up in Texas, black eyed peas and football were to norm for my family, and everyone I knew, on New Year’s Day. Everyone had to have at least one bite for good luck, like it or not, it was the rule. It wasn’t until I met my first Yankee that I realized this was a southern thing unique only unto us.
There are stories that date the “good luck” tradition all the way back the pharaohs of Egypt, but for us it goes back to the War Between the States. During General Sherman’s March to the Sea in late December 1864, he ordered the Union troops to “burn and destroy” everything and “leave a trail that will be recognized fifty years hence.”
In the aftermath of the devastation, the only fields that were spared were the crops of black eyed peas and corn. The Yankees considered them food for the livestock and didn’t waste time burning them, thereby leaving them as the only real source of food left for the starving southerners. As a result, black eyed peas were seen as the saving grace of the South and became a sentimental symbol of better days that lie ahead.
Now there are a lot of theories on why we must eat them on New Year’s Day, but they all revolve around the principle that they bring good luck and prosperity in the coming year. Every family has a different way of cooking them, if you’re from the South you can bet your family has a recipe.
In Texas, some just like to serve plain ole’ “East Texas Caviar.” My friends over in Louisiana like to “kick it up a notch” and add tomatoes and Cajun spices, some folks make Hoppin’ John with rice and hammocks, and most everyone serves them with cornbread and some type of greens such as collard, mustard or turnip greens, or just cabbage or cole slaw to symbolize money. But you can’t just eat the greens and expect a prosperous year, you have to have the peas too. Just one bite, it’s the rule. (Although some say you have to 365 peas, one for each day or eat “every bean and pea on your plate” – I leave that one up to you!)
I have even heard of people putting a penny in the pot and whoever gets the penny in their bowl gets the “best” luck of the year. Maybe this is like the baby in the King Cake? Whatever the case, it is a tradition that runs deep in the south and I am glad to see that it is still alive and well. Both my grandmothers had their special recipes, and every New Year’s Day I still hound my kids and grandkids to make sure they eat their peas. So, I hope you all had your black eyed peas and for all you transplants living in the great State of Texas, I hope you get with the program and try some East Texas Caviar to start your year off right. It’s a Southern thing…
And that’s just the way it is.