• Exploring American History

New Year's Lucky Legumes

In 1864, the United States was in the grips of a bloody civil war. Union General Tecumseh Sherman began his savage “March to the Sea” on November 15, 1864, labeling it the “Savannah Campaign”. The siege began in Atlanta, Georgia, following the city’s capture, and ended on December 22nd at the Port of Savannah.

Though the Southerners probably felt the siege would never end, eventually the Yankees did leave. As the Southerners slowly began to come out of hiding and survey the damage, it appeared the Yankees had made off with all their food and livestock, leaving them to starve. Thankfully though, that turned out not to be the case.

One foodstuff was left behind – a crop of black-eyed peas. It is thought the reason the peas were left behind was due to the fact in the north, black-eyed peas were used only to feed livestock, not people. Since the Yankees would not eat them and they had taken all the livestock, they apparently felt the peas would likely just rot in storage. Thankfully, the Southerners had a different attitude.

Cultivated in Virginia, black-eyed peas were first introduced to the area by Thomas Jefferson during the 1700s. They have since become a Southern staple. In the end, these survivors who originally thought there was no way to fend off starvation, were blessed with “manna from Heaven” in the form of these lifesaving legumes.

The reputation black-eyed peas have acquired for being lucky dates back to about 500 A.D. At that time, they were part of the meal enjoyed on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) by Jews from Egypt and Syria. When served, the peas were mixed with pomegranate seeds.

Today, Southern tables normally display a collection of certain foods on New Year’s Day, much the same as is done on Thanksgiving and Christmas. In this case, the holiday meal consists of ham (or some form of pork), black-eyed peas, greens (normally collards) or cabbage, and cornbread. Each of these has its own special meaning:

· Pork symbolizes positive motion due to the fact pigs root forward when foraging. A pig is unable to turn his head and look back unless he turns around completely; consequently, the belief pigs are always looking to the future.

· Peas symbolize prosperity due to swelling while being cooked.

· Greens symbolize money.

· Cornbread symbolizes gold.

Happy 2021! Bon Appétit

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