Put good luck on the menu on New Year’s Day with these southern cooking recipes for collard greens and black-eyed peas.
I’m not normally superstitious, but I’m not about to buck years of tradition by serving anything other than the good luck combination of ham, collards and black-eyed peas on Jan. 1. Family tradition, history, superstition and folklore dictate what we put on our plates.
In the South, where I live, and in lots of other places around the world, it’s customary to prepare a New Year’s Day feast to ensure prosperity and good fortune for the year to come.
Our New Year’s Day menu always includes ham, black-eyed peas, greens and cornbread. (If you’re looking for a shortcut version of the traditional New Year’s Day meal, try my Black Eyed Pea Soup with Collards & Ham.)
My mom always used to tell us that the number of black-eyed peas and greens we ate on New Year’s Day would foretell how much money we would earn in the coming year.
Turns out Mama’s words were more than just a clever way to get us to clean our plates.
Pork is a symbol of progress, moving forward and overall good luck, while the rest of the food on the plate symbolizes wealth and prosperity.
Cornbread is a stand-in for gold; black-eyed peas represent coins; and collards and other greens look like folded money. (If you’re looking for a good cornbread recipe, try my cheesy green chile cornbread or if you’re looking for something more traditional, this Jiffy Corn Bread with Creamed Corn is a big hit.)
These Southern food superstitions date back to the Civil War. The details of these traditions vary, but the gist is that Southerners survived on humble meals of black-eyed peas and greens after Union soldiers pillaged their land and destroyed most of their crops. Though they were left with little, Southerners were able to move forward and prosper with the help of these humble, but nutritious, foods.
Many different regions and cultures around the world have their own New Year’s Day food traditions.
In South Carolina, a stew called Hoppin’ John, which is made with black-eyed peas and rice seasoned with bacon or pork fat, is a must-have. Germans typically eat lentils and pork at the first of the year, for reasons of luck and prosperity. The Swiss celebrate the new year by dropping dollops of whipped cream on the floor as a symbol of the richness to come.
Some foods are off limits on New Year’s Day because they’re believed to bring bad luck.
My mother-in-law and many other people believe you shouldn’t serve chicken or poultry on Jan. 1 or you’ll spend the year “scratching” for money. Since lobster moves backwards, you could set yourself up for a year of setback if you eat it on New Year’s Day.
I don’t know if a single meal can set the stage for a year filled with good fortune, but I’m not willing to chance it. And a New Year’s Day feast of collards, cornbread, black-eyed peas and ham is some good eating!
If you don’t have time to make black-eyed peas and collards from scratch, you can find canned and frozen varieties to serve on New Year’s Day. Just be sure to dress up the flavor with your own seasonings. But I encourage you to try these traditional southern recipes. They’re not hard to make at all, and you’ll enjoy the flavor and good fortune!
Here are two of my favorite Southern-style New Year’s Eve recipes for black-eyed peas and collard greens. You’ll find my cooking tips below and the recipes at the end of this blog post.
What is the best way to clean collard greens?
Before cooking them, you want to be sure to wash the collard greens thoroughly to remove any dirt and sediment. My mother-in-law calls it “looking your collards.”
Soak fresh collards in a clean sink filled with water. Drain, then soak again, rinsing to remove any remaining sediment.
How to Make Collard Greens
- Once collard greens have been washed, rinsed and drained, remove the stems and chop the leaves into 1-inch pieces.
- In a large pot, sauté bacon slices, then add onion, cooking until translucent.
- Add collard greens and cover with chicken broth. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, if desired.
- Bring the collards to a boil and cook for three minutes.
- Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until greens are tender.
- Serve with vinegar and hot sauce.
Whatever you do, don’t drain the collards after you cook them.
A lot of the flavor is in the pot liquor – or pot likker, if you’re being colloquial – and some cooks even save theirs to season the next batch of collards.
- 1 pound collard greens
- 1 onion sliced root to tip
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 3 to 4 slices bacon cut into small pieces
- salt and pepper to taste
- red pepper flakes optional
- hot sauce
Wash collard greens thoroughly to remove dirt and sediment, and drain.
Remove stems and chop leaves into 1-inch pieces.
In a large pot, sauté bacon slices, then add onion and cook for 5 minutes, until translucent.
Add collard greens and cover with chicken broth. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, if desired.
Bring to a boil and boil for three minutes.
Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until greens are tender.
Serve with vinegar and hot sauce.
Pin This! Homemade Southern Collard Greens
How to Make Black-Eyed Peas
To make traditional New Year’s Day black-eyed peas, start with dried beans.
- Wash the dried beans and sort through them, removing any stones or sediment.
- When cooking black-eyed peas (or any dried beans), do not skip the soaking step. I prefer to soak my beans overnight, but if you forget, use the quick-soak method outlined on the package. I personally don’t think you can overcook beans. You want them tender, not crunchy.
- For the overnight method, place the beans in a pot and cover with water. Let sit covered overnight.
- Before cooking, drain and rinse the beans. Return beans to a pot and cover with water. Oh, and I hope you didn’t throw away that ham bone from Christmas. It makes a mighty fine seasoning for those beans.
- Add a ham bone (saved from your Christmas ham), ham hock, fatback or other pork for flavoring.
- Bring black-eyed peas to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer covered for 90 minutes to 2 hours, until the beans are tender.
- 1 pound dried black-eyed peas
- 1 ham bone ham hock or ham seasoning packet
Wash the dried beans and sort through them, removing any stones or sediment.
Place the beans in a pot and cover with water. Soak overnight or follow the package directions for the quick-soak method.
Prior to cooking, drain and rinse the beans.
Return beans to pot and cover with water. Add a ham bone (saved from your Christmas ham), ham hock, fatback or other pork for flavoring.
Season with salt and pepper, about 1 teaspoon each.
Bring beans to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer covered for 1 ½ to 2 hours, until beans are tender.
If you need ideas for how to use those Christmas and New Year’s leftovers, I have more than 100 ideas for leftover ham.
And here’s the recipe for that cheesy green chile cornbread I mentioned.
A version of this post originally appeared on the ForRent.com blog.