Mary Ann Ellis

A brand-new year—2023—is upon us, and as responsible Southerners, I can assume that we rang it in judiciously by following all the important traditions (superstitions?). If you chose to party or stay up and watch the ball drop in New York, so be it as long as you ate a good bait of the proper foods on New Year’s Day to insure a prosperous year. Whether you like those foods or not is beside the point. We are forced to do many unpleasant things during the course of our lives as we pursue happiness. I admit that it’s easier if you really like black eyed peas, greens, hog jowl, and corn bread. All the members of my household do. Well, except Stuart, that is. He’s a junk food junkie.

This menu supposedly dates back to the Civil War. The lowly but nutritious black-eyed pea was first planted as food for livestock and later for slaves. Hence, when Sherman’s troops destroyed or consumed other crops, they ignored the fields of black-eyed peas. They weren’t familiar with mustard greens, turnips, rutabagas, collard greens, etc., either, so they, too, were left behind. The surviving Confederates found themselves with two major food sources and considered themselves lucky to have them. They could still eat. That’s pure luck.

Whether you choose to follow the Southern New Year’s tradition or not, black-eyed peas are a good source of nutrition. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, black-eyed peas are low in fat and sodium and contain no cholesterol. They are high in potassium, iron, and fiber and a one-half cup serving of cooked black-eyed peas counts as one ounce of lean meat from the Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs and Nuts Group of the Food Guide Pyramid. I realize that I’m not going to convince anyone to change his diet, nor am I trying to. But this pea is truly a gold mine of nutrition. The recipe may decline in nutrition and rise in caloric content once we Southerners add the bacon drippings and hog jowl for seasoning. We cooks control that element though. To each his own. And don’t forget the cornbread hot from the oven. Make it golden brown because it represents the gold to come in the New Year. Some sources say you must eat at least 365 peas to insure wealth for the New Year, but I’m not so sure about that. Your dinner might last a long time if every diner counts each pea as he ingests it.

I discovered through research that some people add a shiny penny or dime to the pot just before serving. The person whose bowl contains the penny or dime supposedly receives the best luck for the New Year, unless of course, the recipient swallows the coin, which might be a rather unlucky way to start off the year. My family never added any coins to the pot. Every penny was too valuable to take chances.

The other superstition that my mother ALWAYS adhered to and made us promise to observe forever and ever was to never wash clothes on New Year’s Day. If the cat barfs on your new sweater, too bad. Put it in the laundry until tomorrow. If your child falls in a mud hole in his favorite togs, sorry. Make him wear something else and put the muddy clothes in the laundry for January 2. A child wets his bed? Same rule applies. You’ve got more sheets. Do Not Wash Any Type Clothing On NEW YEAR’S DAY! NEVER! NO EXCEPTIONS!

Only a pseudo-Southerner would ask why. We dyed-in-the-wool Southerners know the answer. You run the risk of washing someone out of your family in the coming year. Some one will surely die if you turn on your washer. So, when Uncle Joe, who’s 98, succumbs to congestive heart failure and dies, you won’t be sitting at his funeral feeling guilty. You did not wash on New Year’s Day, but you glance suspiciously about the church wondering who did.

How do you know for absolute sure this works? ‘Cause Mama said so!

Josh and Mackensie left early this morning. Last night he said to me, “Mom, can you cook your lucky New Year’s meal for breakfast tomorrow morning early. If we don’t have it then, we won’t get it. We’d both like to have some assurance that the luck will be there for 2023, and we’ll be on the road all day.”

I assured them that I would although I’ve never served Hoppin’ John, mustard greens, corn bread, and bacon for breakfast before. I figured eating it anytime on January 1 should work.

And let me say, “I’m right proud of that boy. He must have been listening back in his youth when I told him about good luck and New Year’s. I thought he never heard a word I said until he turned 21.”