Southern families wouldn’t dream of missing their black-eyed peas on January 1. But where did this tradition come from?
Believe it or not, the custom is over 1,500 years old and hails from Jewish tradition when black-eyed peas were eaten on their new year, Rosh Hashanah. Possibly, Sephardic Jews who emigrated to Georgia, brought the custom with them. And during the Civil War, residents of Vicksburg, Miss. thought they’d run out of food but discovered they had some black-eyed peas — so thereafter, the light brown beauties were considered lucky.
Eating the peas symbolizes good fortune, too, because the dried beans – which is what they actually are – look like coins and when they swell it mimics expanding wealth. Most folk consider eating black-eyed peas a sign of humility, and traditionally this was the food of the common man.
Other New Year’s Day food traditions include eating collard greens, which look like money, indicating economic fortune; in Japan, herring roe is consumed for fertility; and in Sweden a variety of fish dishes, black-eyed peas, and at midnight twelve grapes are consumed for luck. The Swedes, like the Norwegians, hide an almond in rice pudding – the one who finds it is guaranteed good luck all year.