Every Southerner has their own recipe for New Year’s Day black-eyed peas – and a strong opinion on whether or not to add sausage or collards or okra. But when asked where the tradition – or superstition, as some would have it – came from, you’ll get lots of answers. I tend to trust John T. Edge, the head of the Southern Foodways Alliance and author of the Potlikker Papers, on matters of southern culinary history. According to Edge, black-eyed peas came to North American shores on slave ships, along with okra and other staples of the Southern pantry.
Edge writes: “With the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade to the northern colonies in 1619, the transformation of the foods of Africa began…The traders took note of the culinary preferences and provisioned their ships from ports at the peak of harvest. Later slave owners imported African foodstuffs to find cheap fodder for the enslaved. In such manner, okra, black-eyed peas and more were added to the South’s cooking pots.” (Volume 7, Encycolpedia of Southern Culture).
By the end of the Civil War, the story goes, black eyed peas and other crops that had been grown to sustain the enslaved populations of the South, were all that was left in Southern fields, and starving soliders considered themselves lucky to have been left with peas and other lesser crops to help them survive the winter. Hence the association of luck with the black-eyed pea.
Whatever its history, the Southern tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day now cuts across color and class lines and seems to be a custom that most Southerners practice with great joy. I hope you’ll enjoy the recipes below as you prepare to mix up a pot of good luck for this long-awaited New Year:
Julia’s delicious recipe for Black-Eyed Peas with Andouille Sausage and Rice is my go-to recipe for New Year’s Day and was published in her New York Times Food column years ago. (I would highly recommend her Bourbon Pecan Pie for dessert if you’re really in the mood to cook).
And Julia always agreed that my grandmother’s recipe for Tex-Mex Cornbread was the most delicious accompaniment to her lucky black-eyed peas. This super-simple recipe turns cornbread into a cross between a spicey quiche and a cheesy souffle, at once dense and airy, if such a thing can be achieved.
I hope you’ll enjoy.
Julia’s Black-Eyed Peas & Andouille Sausage with Rice
- 2 cups dried black-eyed peas or 4 cups fresh or frozen
- 1 ½ pounds andouille sausage or other good-quality smoked sausage
- ¼ pound chunk of country or smoked ham
- 6 cups chicken stock or water
- 1 tablespoon bacon grease or olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 rib celery, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried
- 2 bay leaves
Step 1: If using dried peas, rinse and soak overnight in water to cover by 3 inches. Drain, and place in a 6- to 8-quart pot with a 1/2-pound piece of the andouille, the ham and the stock. Heat to boiling, then reduce to a simmer. (If using fresh or frozen peas, boil the stock first, then add peas, the 1/2-pound piece of andouille and the ham. Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.)
Step 2: Heat the bacon grease or oil in a heavy skillet, add the onion and celery and cook until soft. Add to the peas with the garlic and remaining seasonings. Simmer dried peas for 2 to 2 1/2 hours; fresh or frozen for about 30 to 45 minutes. In both cases, the peas should be tender and the liquid should begin to thicken.
Step 3: Slice remaining sausage into 1/2-inch rounds. Fry briefly in a nonstick skillet and add to the peas. Remove the whole piece of sausage and the ham and chop roughly; return to pot. Cook for another 15 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs, bay leaves and pepper pods.
Step 4: To serve, ladle pea mixture over rice and sprinkle with green onions, Tabasco and vinegar to taste.
Mack’s Tex-Mex Cornbread
- 2 Eggs
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 cup cream style corn (canned)
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 2 Tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2/3 cup of vegetable oil
- 1 cup grated sharp cheddar
- 2 chopped jalapeno peppers (fresh or canned)
Beat eggs and sour cream. Add cream corn. Mix in corn meal and oil. Mix well. Pour half the batter into a greased pyrex or pan. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Repeat. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Slice into squares and serve hot.