We traditionally have the same meal every New Year’s Day:
Corned beef, brown butter braised cabbage and onions, black-eyed peas with hog jowl, and white rice.
However, the only part of the meal that I was aware had any meaning for the New Year were the black-eyed peas. When I was growing up the menu wasn’t as specific as it is today, but my mom always served black-eyed peas and hog jowl, which she claimed brought good luck in the coming year. So this year I did a little research on whether certain foods were supposed to bring good luck for the New Year and why. This is what I learned:
Traditionally, in the American South, pork, black-eyed peas, greens, rice (Hoppin’ John), and cornbread are served for New Year’s Eve. Pigs are said symbolize progress because these animals never move backward, they always root forward. Some say the richness of the pork fat will make you rich in happiness. Black-eyed peas are considered good luck due to their penny-like appearance, their abundance, the fact that they swell when cooked, and are therefore a symbol of monetary growth. People eat green leafy vegetables (collard greens, kale, cabbage) on New Year’s Day because their color and appearance resembles paper cash. The belief is, the more you eat the more prosperous you will be (and the healthier, too!). In many cultures grains like rice, quinoa, and barley represent abundance, and noodles represent long life. Cornbread’s golden color represents gold and wealth.
I personally don’t care for cornbread so I don’t serve it. And I prefer my “Hoppin’ John” deconstructed. I cook my black-eyed peas with hog jowl to incorporate pork into the meal but I prefer corned beef as my main protein. Its saltiness is the perfect accompaniment to the milder peas and rice and I add a dash of vinegar to my cabbage to heighten the taste experience.
Growing up in Indiana I never knew that our New Year’s tradition of black-eyed peas and hog jowl followed Southern tradition. But I guess it makes sense, as my parents were both raised in Arkansas. And when I added cabbage and rice to the meal, I was unaware of the traditional meal called Hoppin’ John. I can find no mention of corned beef bringing any luck to any nationality for the New Year, but it sure tastes good (maybe I can blame my husband’s Irish heritage for that one).
As you know I love the idea of eating the leftovers of a holiday meal in their entirety the following day, it’s a meal too good to eat just once. In the Southern tradition, on the day after New Year’s Day, leftover “Hoppin’ John” becomes “Skippin’ Jenny,” meant to demonstrate frugality and promote prosperity in the New Year. Who knew I was following southern tradition all along?