A SPOONFUL FOR GOOD LUCK IN THE NEW YEAR
Thank Gen. Sherman for our black-eyed pea tradition
By Steve Popp
12.31.09 | 10:04 pm
I gotta feeling: Black-Eyed Peas not only will be playing on the radio, but they’ll be served on a table, too.
My first foray from the suburbs of Philadelphia to the Deep South—Yazoo City, Miss., to be exact—taught me several things.
- Dress up before you sit down at the dinner table, pleated-front khakis preferred.
- Pace yourself at the dinner table when a broccoli cheese casserole is served.
- You can refer to the American Civil War as “the War of Northern Aggression,” if you’d like.
- Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is an important Southern tradition to bring you good luck in the coming year.
Now I still can’t say y'all. You guys will have to wait a few more years for that. Nor will I blame “northern aggression” for the Civil War. Lincoln bashing is where I draw the line.
But I have come to fully embrace the distinct dishes (chile con queso is a newly formed section of my food pyramid) as well as Southern culinary traditions, like eating those black-eyed peas on New Year’s.
I recently took a very non-scientific poll of yay or nay around the dinner table about the reason for the black-eyed pea New Year’s tradition and found nay person to offer a yay response.
Some Northern Aggression Actually Informs the Tradition
Tradition has it that Southerners have been eating black-eyed peas for good luck on the first of the year since the end of the Civil War. They were the only things left for many Southerners to eat after the invading northern army, led by Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, tore through Georgia on his “march to the sea.”
Sherman believed that the actions of his army “hastened what we all fought for, the end of the war."
Sherman’s goal was to bring a quick end to the war. He also wanted to make Georgia “howl.” To do so, Sherman’s army not only took the city of Atlanta, but it cut a path of destruction some 300 miles long and some 60 miles wide through the South. As the army wreaked havoc, it consumed almost everything with which it came into contact. Almost everything except black-eyed peas.
Apparently Northerners thought these cowpeas, as they referred to them, were unfit for human consumption (gasp!). Thus, for Southerners caught in the wake of this destructive army, there was little else that winter of 1864-65 on which they could subsist.
Little did he know it also inaugurated a New Year’s tradition for southerners.
So considering my recently acquired affinity for black-eyed peas runs counter to the apparent long tradition of Yankee disdain for the bean, I’m quite proud of my turnaround in taste.
Thank you, Steve Popp, for sharing your story with us.
Now, my mother had her own rules for eating, what we as kids called, the dreaded pea. We could eat one spoonful or, if that was too much, at least one pea. I think my brother might have stretched that to one-half. I happen to love the sassy little legume, but, after having children of my own, I understood why she amended the folklore. Mother, who was very superstitious, was going to make sure we ate a pea. She told us if we ever missed eating one on New Years Day, there was a three day grace period. I just want to say that I dearly loved my mom, and tomorrow we will be having a bowl in her honor. Eat up!!
Happy New Year! Carra