According to Southern folklore, black-eyed peas should be the first food eaten on New Year’s Day for luck and prosperity in the year ahead. The practice is believed to date back to the Civil War. General Sherman’s troops stripped areas of the south of all stored food, crops and livestock, but they left the black-eyed pea crops untouched. Black-eyed peas were first planted to feed livestock, and the troops ignored the beans because they were considered animal food. Black-peas became a major food source for surviving Confederates.
Another suggested beginning to the tradition has to do with Sephardi Jews immigrating to the Southern U.S. in the the 1730s. Black-eyed peas have always been a traditional New Year’s Day food for Jewish people who customarily eat them on Rosh Hashanah. The tradition was recorded in the Babylonian Talmud, compiled circa 500 CE, although it is possible that the custom may have resulted from an early mistranslation of the Aramaic word for fenugreek. It is believed that non-Jews in the South adopted the Jewish tradition around the time of the Civil War.
It is also believed that eating simple black-eyed peas shows humility and a lack of vanity. The humble nature of the legume is demonstrated in the old expression, “Eat poor on New Year’s, and eat fat the rest of the year.” It is also said that because dried beans greatly expand in volume, they symbolize expanding wealth. Another explanation to the tradition is that dried beans loosely resemble coins. Today in the South black-eyed peas are served with collard greens in the dish Hoppin’ John, as collards are said to represent paper money. The dish is often accompanied by cornbread, which symbolizes gold.
5 Health Benefits of Black-Eyed Peas
- They can Improve Digestion – The high fiber content in black-eyed peas will keep you regular and make sure your digestive system is in good working order.
- They’re Iron-Rich – These little legumes are loaded with both iron and folate, which are needed red blood cells. Black-eyed peas can help prevent anemia.
- They’re Loaded with Potassium – Potassium can help keep your blood pressure in check, and it’s necessary regulation the fluid balance in the body, protecting against loss of muscle mass, preserving bone mineral density, and controlling the electrical activity of muscles.
- They’re Rich in Vitamin A – Just one cup of black-eyed peas have a quarter of your daily vitamin a requirement. Vitamin A can help form and maintain healthy skin and mucus membranes. It can also help improve vision, especially in low light.
- They’re full of Protein – ½ cup of these beans contain about 6 grams of protein, and we all know how important protein is!
My Favorite Black-Eyed Peas Recipes Include:
Hoppin’ John – This is my vegan take on the classic dish.
Hoppin’ John Tofu Scramble – I created a breakfast version of the classic recipe so I could have it first thing on New Year’s Day!
Hoppin’ John Burgers – These burgers are served with Tempeh Bacon and Spicy Aioli! They have all of the flavors of the classic dish in one tasty sandwich.
Here’s to a prosperous new year!