This year I actually bought a can of smoked herring to try the traditional Urglaawe meal of herring on Twelfth Night, but I still won’t skip the traditional New Year’s meal that I’ve been eating since I was a kid: black-eyed peas!
When I was a kid my mom told me that you have to eat black-eyed peas on either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day “for good luck.” Sometimes we’d just have some from a can as a side dish to whatever else we were having for dinner, but we’d always try to eat at least a few. There used to be a chain restaurant called The Black-Eyed Pea that we’d go to sometimes, and they would give you a special free cup of black-eyed peas with your meal on New Year’s. Of course, it was also packed on New Year’s and hard to get a table! Sadly, it looks like now that restaurant is out of business. I’d usually get the chicken-fried steak there. Yum!
Later I found out that you’re supposed to eat collard greens and cornbread with your black-eyed peas, so that’s how I do it now. I also cook the peas with the leftover ham bone from the Yule ham (with any leftover meat still on it), because the peas need some kind of smoked pork in them. The leftover meat ends up falling off the bone, and then I shred it up into bite-sized pieces and mix it back in.
In addition to the lucky peas, the collard greens represent money. The golden cornbread and pork are also symbols of prosperity. Overall, it seems like a very Vanic meal. In Urglaawe, the New Year’s feast is in honor of Frey, and the traditional fare is pork and sauerkraut. Well, collards are really just a more heat-tolerant, non-heading variety of cabbage, so I think this is close enough as a Texas equivalent of the traditional Twelfth Day feast for Frey.
You cook black-eyed peas about the same way you’d cook any other dried bean, though they are a different species than the common bean (pinto beans, kidney beans, etc.). They’re actually more tender and take less time to cook than common beans. It’s not even necessary to soak them, but if you do, they only take about an hour to cook. If you don’t soak them, they take about two hours to cook. I sweat some onions first, and then add the ham bone and a pound of peas, cover with water, and simmer until done. Simple!
There are actually more varieties than just the black-eyed ones. There are solid red ones, solid black ones, ones with purple eyes instead of black, etc. The ones that aren’t black-eyed are usually called “cowpeas” or “Southern peas.” I’m sure any of the colors would work for the magical meal. The black-eyed ones are just the ones most likely to be found at an ordinary grocery store.
As for the collard greens, I have some growing in my garden right now that are ready to harvest for the feast. Collard greens are just the southern version of kale, without all the trendiness. No really, collards and kale are just different varieties of the same species of plant! And they’re also the same species as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. I grow collards in my garden every winter. Yes, I grow kale too, but the collards do better. I grow mustard greens as well, and sometimes mix them in with the collards when I make a “mess o greens.” Mustard greens have a “bite” tot hem, while the collards are a lot milder, like cabbage. Turnip greens can also be mixed in, and even diced up turnip root, but my turnips are not anywhere near ready yet.
To make a “mess o greens,” I rinse the greens from the garden well (make sure there aren’t any bugs hiding in there), cut out the tough rib in the middle, and then slice them up into bite-sized pieces. Then I sweat some onions in bacon grease in a pot, add in the greens (keep in mind that they shrink a lot when they cook, so you have to have a lot of them), get the greens to wilt a bit, and then add water or chicken stock and gently simmer them.
In most cases I like my vegetables a little on the crispy side. Collard greens are an exception. In this case you’re supposed to cook them until they are very soft, maybe about half an hour. Then I add a splash of vinegar (members of the cabbage family really benefit from something acidic added to them) and salt and pepper to taste.
But if you boil vegetables for a long time, all the nutrients come out into the water, right? Well, in this case, the liquid from the cooked greens is called “pot liquor” and you are supposed to drink it. You can dunk your cornbread in it.
Which brings me to the golden cornbread, which is made with buttermilk and cooked in a cast-iron skillet. Texans also don’t like very sweet cornbread. I’ve had cornbread before that reminded me more of yellow pound cake than cornbread. In my cornbread, there is more cornmeal than flour (because it’s CORNbread), and only 2 tablespoons of sugar (because it’s cornBREAD, not cake).
Sometimes I mix the greens into the peas, and sometimes I eat them separately. Both the greens and peas get some hot sauce on top. You can also put the peas over rice (and then it’s called Hoppin’ John). Beer is my preferred beverage to drink with it.
Black-eyed peas are from Africa, collards (and other members of the cabbage family) are from Europe, and corn is Native American, so this meal is as multicultural as Texas itself.
To me, it’s just not New Year’s in Texas without it.