Illustration by Kristy Heilenday
Ring in the new year with a bowl full of money. No, a heaping portion of black-eyed peas won’t buy much, but more than a century of Southern tradition says that consuming these legumes as your first meal of the New Year could bring you wealth.
We asked the family at Mama J’s, Richmond’s de facto soul-food authority, for a recipe to bring us luck in the New Year; they sent us their instructions for both black-eyed peas and stewed tomatoes, dishes best served together for double the luck.
Recipe by Mama J's
- 1 16-ounce bag of dried black-eyed peas
- 2 large ham hocks
- 7 cups of water
Rinse and soak the black-eyed peas in a large pot overnight. In the morning, wash the peas again, drain them and place them aside. Bring your ham hocks to a boil in 7 cups of water; once boiling, reduce the heat to low and cook until tender, roughly for 2 hours. Add the strained black-eyed peas to your pot and bring its contents to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for
1 1/2 to 2 hours. Serve hot.
- 1 32-ounce can of diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon of parsley
- 1 foot-long sub roll (or bread of choice)
- 5 tablespoons of flour
- 2 1/2 cups of water
Strain the canned tomatoes, but do not rinse. Place the tomatoes, sugar, salt and parsley in a medium pot, along with 2 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for
45 minutes. In the meantime, hand-tear your sub roll into small pieces and add them to the pot once it is boiling. In a bowl, mix the flour and 1/2 cup of water. Stir thoroughly, then add it to the tomatoes for thickness. Simmer on low heat for 3 minutes, remove from the heat and serve hot.
It’s possible that black-eyed peas first sprouted in America right here in Virginia as early as the 16th or 17th century, after a journey from West Africa. Hoppin’ John — a dish of black-eyed peas or field peas, simmered with rice and bacon or ham hock — was a staple for slaves in early America and gained popularity in the South throughout the 19th century. While the exact source of the peas’ good-luck mythos is unknown, many believe it began due to limited rations during the Civil War, or because they were consumed in the days after Christmas that marked a traditional respite for Southern slaves. Today, black-eyed peas represent coins and growing prosperity, as they plump when cooked.
What to Buy
Black-eyed peas are most often found dried, but the canned variety is also both widely popular and available at any major grocery store. Though not in season this time of year, one can find the legumes fresh throughout the summer at a local farmers market — just boil, rinse, drain and freeze them until New Year’s Day.
How to Prepare
When purchasing dried black-eyed peas, soak them for an extended period of time, typically overnight. From there, stew them with rice and ham for Hoppin’ John, or serve them in a variety of ways, including as a salad or in chili. When buying the canned goods, drain and rinse them and proceed with your recipe; no soaking needed. If fresh and then frozen, black-eyed peas should fully defrost before adding them to your recipe.