According to one theory offered in Soul Food, the superstition behind eating Black-Eyed Peas on New Year’s Day came from German folklore. When the clock announces the new year, you should eat plenty of lentils, pork, white cabbage, and potato dumplings so the new year will bring you good luck and lots of money.
The South had a number of German immigrants who were slaveholders in the antebellum era. Miller suggests enslaved African Americans likely prepared traditional New Year’s Day meals for their German masters. The theory proposes that they borrowed the folklore, gave it an African American spin by substituting in their own foods, and passed it along from the Big House to the slave quarters.
Makes 8 servings
- 1 pound dried black-eyed or other field peas
- 1 smoked ham hock or smoked turkey wing (about 8 ounces)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
- Salt, to taste
- Rinse the peas and pick through them to discard any small stones or broken peas. Pour the peas into a large saucepan and cover with cold water by 2 inches. Bring them to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour. (Alternatively, plae the peas in a large bowl, cover with cold water, and let stand at room temperature overnight.)
- Meanwhile, make a stock by placing the ham hock or turkey wing in another large saucepan. Cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the stock is flavorful, about 1 hour. Remove the hock or wing.
- Drain the soaking liquid from the peas and add them to the stock. Make sure the peas are submerged. Stir in the onion and pepper flakes.
- Simmer until the peas are nearly tender, about 39 minutes. Season with salt and continue simmering until the peas are tender and well seasoned, about 10 minutes more.
- Serve the peas warm.
- If desired, you may pull meat off the ham hock or turkey wing and add it to the dish before serving