1.1.06

Eating Black-Eyed Peas for New Year's Luck...

"As New Year's Day approaches, people around the world will plan for the coming year, eager to get off to the best possible start! Many people will "eat for luck"-they plan to eat special foods that, by tradition, are supposed to bring them good luck. Throughout history, people have eaten certain foods on New Year's Day, hoping to gain riches, love, or other kinds of good fortune during the rest of the year. For people of several nationalities, ham or pork is the luckiest thing to eat on New Year's Day. How did the pig become associated with the idea of good luck? In Europe hundreds of years ago, wild boars were caught in the forests and killed on the first day of the year. Also, a pig uses its snout to dig in the ground in a forward direction. Maybe people liked the idea of moving forward as the new year began, especially since pigs are also associated with plumpness and getting plenty to eat. However the custom arose, Austrians, Swedes, and Germans frequently choose pork or ham for their New Year's meal. They brought this tradition with them when they settled in different regions of the United States. New Englanders often combine their pork with sauerkraut to guarantee luck and prosperity for the coming year. Germans and Swedes may pick cabbage as a lucky side dish, too. In other places, turkey is the meat of choice. Bolivians and some people in New Orleans follow this custom. But other people claim that eating fowl (such as turkey, goose, or chicken) on New Year's Day will result in bad luck. The reason? Fowl scratch backward as they search for their food, and who wants to have to "scratch for a living"? Frequently, fish is the lucky food. People in the northwestern part of the United States may eat salmon to get lucky. Some Germans and Poles choose herring, which may be served in a cream sauce or pickled. other Germans eat carp. Sometimes sweets or pastries are eaten for luck. In the colony of New Amsterdam, now New York, the Dutch settlers still enjoy these treats. Germans often eat doughnuts, or pfannkuchen, while the French have traditionally celebrated with pancakes. In some places, a special cake is made with a coin baked inside. Such cakes are traditional in Greece, which celebrates Saint Basil's Day and New Year's at the same time. The Saint Basil's Day cake (vasilopeta) is made of yeast dough and flavored with lemon. The person who gets the slice with the silver or gold coin is considered very lucky! Many of the luck-bringing foods are round or ring-shaped, because this signifies that the old year has been completed. Black-eyed peas are an example of this, and they are part of one of New Year's most colorful dishes, Hoppin' John, which is eaten in many southern states. Hoppin' John is made with black-eyed peas or dried red peas, combined with hog jowls, bacon, or salt pork. Rice, butter, salt, or other vegetables may be added. The children in the family might even hop around the table before the family sits down to eat this lucky dish. In Brazil, lentils are a symbol of prosperity, so lentil soup or lentils with rice is prepared for the first meal of the New Year. Thousands of miles away, the Japanese observe their New Year's tradition of eating a noodle called toshikoshi soba. (This means "sending out the old year.") This buckwheat noodle is quite long, and those who can swallow at least one of them without chewing or breaking it are supposed to enjoy good luck and a long life. Finally, Portugal and Spain have an interesting custom. As the clock strikes midnight and the new year begins, people in these countries may follow the custom of eating twelve grapes or raisins to bring them luck for all twelve months of the coming year! "
--- "EAT FOR LUCK!," Victoria Sherrow & David Helton, Sherrow, Victoria, Children's Digest, Jan/Feb94 (p. 20)

Although recipes combining cowpeas (aka black-eyed peas) and cereal grains can be traced to Ancient African cultures, food historians generally agree that "Hopping John" is an American dish with African/French/Caribbean roots. There is much controversy about the origins of the name.

"Hopping john.
Also, "hoppin' John" and "happy John." A southern dish made of cowpeas and rice, served traditionally on New Year's Day to ensure good luck for the year. The origin of the name is obscure, but several stories abide. One ascribes the name to the custom of inviting guests to eat with the request to "hop in, John." Another suggests it derives from an old ritual on New Year's Day in which the children in the house hopped once around the table before eating the dish. The first mention of the dish by name was in 1830.

In Rice & Beans: The Itinerary of a Recipe (1981), John Thorne suggest that the name is a corruption of "pois a pigeon," a French term for "pigeon peas," which flourished in the Caribbean but not in the American South, resulting in an etymological dissolve into "hoppin john." Whatever the origins of the name, the dish quite definately was a staple of the African slaves who populated southern plantations, especially those of the Gulla country of South Carolina, and one will find similar dishes throughout the Caribbean..."
---The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 157)

Afro-Americans have had profound influence on many aspects of American culture, especially cooking...The descendants of these first Afro-Americans used many traditional foods of Africa and adapted the time-honored dishes so that they were no longer African but Afro-American. Because of these culinary wizards,...the black bean dishes of Burundi have been transformed into such dishes as ham hocks with black-eyed peas or hoppin john..."
---Better Homes and Gardens Heritage Cook Book, Better Homes and Gardens [Meredith:USA] 1975 (p. 228)

"Cowpeas and Rice: Hoppin' John
The dish is simple but the names for it are not. Cowpeas are not botanical peas at all but a type of bean, a low legume that was fed to cattle and calves in eighteenth-century America and named for the more valued animal. Brought to the West Indies from Africa, cowpeas crept north into Georgia in the 1730s and multiplied so rapidly that they became both the common "field pea," as they are often called, and the decorative "black-eyed pea" that Jefferson planted at Monticello. Creoles called the peas "congri," echoing Congo Square. And when they mixed the peas with rice and threw in pickled pork, they called the dish "jambalaya au congri."

The combination of cowpease and rice also got known as "hoppin' John" for reasons lost in the mists of popular naming. One lexicographer suggests the name may have been a corruption of pois a pigeon, since pigeon peas were common in the Caribbean. Another suggests that the name originated in a children's game played on New Year's Day, since the dish and the game were thought to bring good luck, beans carrying with them the magic of voodoo..."
---I Hear America Cooking, Betty Fussell [Viking:New York] 1986 (p. 107)
"Lucky Beans," Travel Holiday [magazine], January 1991 (p.32+)
---Discusses the history of Hoppin' John, a rice-and-beans dish served in the South on New Year's Day. Recipe included.


(DLE: As an aside, be sure to always open the front and back doors to let good luck in / bad luck out...)

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