Foreshadowing in Food
Start the year right with a traditional Southern New Year’s Day meal.
“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.” That’s what Oprah Winfrey says in reference to starting the New Year. Although it is my opinion that Oprah got it right a long time ago, many of us are hoping for a fresh beginning with new opportunities. Ideally, the New Year will bring a change of fortunes. If there was a meal that could improve those odds, wouldn’t you be willing to make it and eat it?
As far back as I can remember my family and I have enjoyed a traditional Southern New Year’s Day meal. Traditions are important to me, and what better time to celebrate a timeless ritual than at the beginning of the year? While I have introduced you to a wide range of Southern dishes in the What’s Cookin’ columns of North Brunswick Magazine and South Brunswick Magazine, I have yet to incorporate the most symbolic foods of New Year’s Day. And that can be very bad luck, or so I have been taught, and I am not willing to chance it.
All true Southerners know that the best way to ensure a great year ahead is to cook a meal that includes pork, black-eyed peas, greens and cornbread. There are many variations you could dish out to incorporate all of these components, and here is how:
Pork – Prosperity and Health
With so many pig-based options — sausage, ribs, bacon, ham, hog jaw, barbecue, etc. — there’s no reason not to be in hog heaven for at least one day. I am partial to a ham glazed with brown sugar, butter and Dijon mustard. The pig is a symbol of forward moving, so the more you eat for the New Year, the more prosperous you will be. I have been taught, deep in my Southern roots, that it is bad luck to eat any type of fowl such as turkey or chicken on New Year’s Day because they fly away — and you don’t want your health and prosperity flying out the window.
Black-Eyed Peas – Pennies
Even people who do not partake in the traditions of eating a New Year’s Day meal for good luck know that black-eyed peas are a symbol of good fortune. Folklore has it that these peas were solely grown to feed the cattle and were then known as “cow-peas”. When all resources were depleted and there were no crops available, people began to eat and sell these cow-peas. Not only did the black-eyed peas bring “pennies” to many families, but also they were nourishment for survival. For extra luck, I cook my black-eyed peas along with the fat removed from the ham. The more pig involved in the meal, the more luck it brings. You can certainly use lentils or beans to represent the pennies, but black-eyed peas are the true Southern tradition.
Greens – Dollars
Cabbage, collards or kale are all acceptable options to bring the luck of money into your New Year. In the South, there is a proper way to slow-cook collards and it involves more pork. You simply can’t prepare Southern greens without rendering it in fat, so I like to drop a few cuts of bacon into my greens for extra flavor and luck. My mother usually cooks up cabbage as her green portion. She uses a big wok and sautés it in pork fat with lots of pepper. An old ritual that started with settlers in the Appalachian Mountains, which is where I am from, is to hide silver coins in the cooking of cabbage. The recipient would be extra blessed in the year ahead. If you want to ensure dollars to come to you in the New Year, eat your greens!
Cornbread – Gold
Nothing soaks up all the juices better than a chunk of golden cornbread. It is said that the color resembles gold, and some people add extra corn kernels, which symbolize golden nuggets and are thought to bring you additional spending money in the prosperous New Year. My preferred way of cooking this is to put a few tablespoons of reserved bacon fat in a cast-iron pan and put it in the oven to melt. When the pan is super-hot, I take it out of the oven and pour the cornbread and corn mixture into the pan and cook as directed. Again, the additional pork ingredient can only bring more luck.
Many cultures and countries have their designated lucky foods, and the Southern United States is no exception. Once you’ve checked off these components, then you are ready to serve the perfect New Year’s Day dinner full of good fortune. I mean, if you don’t eat your pork for health, then what are you going to do with all that money the New Year will bring you by eating black-eyed peas, greens and cornbread?