Ready for the new year?
I don’t know that I’m ever actually ready for a new year, but most years, I am ready for New Year’s Day, and this year is no exception. I think different cultures have different traditions/superstitions for New Year’s Day, and growing up in the American South, I have a few of my own:
-“Rabbit! Rabbit!” I make sure to say this at some point on the first of every month, preferable first thing in the morning. But let’s face it, most mornings, when I first wake up, I don’t know what day it is! Lots of people say “Rabbit! Rabbit!” on the first day of every month for good luck. Apparently, rabbits are considered good luck. I tried to find an explanation online, and I found an NPR episode in which Martha Barnette, an etymology author, says the phrase dates back to at least the early 1900s. Some folks believe rabbits are good luck because of their fertility, which can be associated with new beginnings. Whatever. I just do it, because I’m always welcoming any good luck that comes my way! But it seems especially important on the first day of the year!
-Black-eyed Peas. A few years ago, I returned home from vacation late on New Year’s Eve, and I had not had an opportunity to go to the grocery store to prepare for New Year’s Day. Lucky for me, I had a can of black-eyed peas in my pantry. I can’t imagine what made me purchase canned black-eyed peas, because I prefer to cook dried ones, but the canned variety will do in a pinch! In my family, and across the American South, it is believed that eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day brings good luck and prosperity. Even when I was a little girl and didn’t care for them, my parents made me eat a spoonful of black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. According to Modern Farmer, black-eyed peas came to the US on slave ships, and slaves planted them in their gardens. The same source says the Union Army took everything edible when they raided the south, but they didn’t take black-eyed peas. They were looked at then as “poor people’s food,” but after the war, they became popular all across the south. Some people in the south believe they represent coins. And some southerners cook them in Hoppin’ John, a southern rice dish. Personally, I love them…especially on New Year’s Day. I purchased them early this year…dried ones that I will start cooking early on New Year’s Day, so we can enjoy them in the afternoon. As for a recipe, I don’t make Hoppin’ John. I just soak the peas before I boil them with Goya pork seasoning and salt. I throw in the spinach, and while I normally try to keep them healthier, I’ll likely throw in some pork for New Year’s Day.
–Greens. In the south, when most people say they eat “greens” on New Year’s Day, I think they mean collard greens or turnip greens. Some folks mean cabbage. I’m the outlier…I eat spinach on New Year’s Day. It’s still a green, and it’s iron-rich. I just can’t bring myself to cook turnips, cabbage, or turnips in my house, because I remember how our house smelled when I was growing up and Mother cooked greens. Collard greens, turnip greens, and cabbage taste good, but they smell rancid when they’re cooking. I can’t do that to my family, so we have spinach. Of course, I’m the only one who eats regular sauteed spinach, so I have to mix the spinach with the black-eyed peas. Greens represent money. And who doesn’t want more money in the new year? This year, I might add some extra spinach, in fact! And remember the year I had canned black-eyed peas? I was also lucky enough to find canned turnip greens in my pantry (Glory brand is seasoned really well).
-Pork. I don’t care what kind of pork it is, everyone who doesn’t have a religious exemption should eat a bite of pork on New Year’s Day. All my life, I’ve believed eating pork on New Year’s Day brings good luck, because that’s all I’ve ever heard. I looked into the reasoning, and according to thespruceeats.com, it’s considered a sign of prosperity in some cultures because “pigs root forward.” I guess that means we will continue to move forward if we eat pork. When I was growing up, my mother would cook a ham. My family won’t eat a whole ham, so I just purchased a couple of ham steaks to prepare on New Year’s Day. I’ll throw some of it in the black-eyed peas for seasoning. As for the preparation of the ham steaks, I will just cook them on the stove top in a skillet with a little butter and seasoning.
–Cornbread. My parents used to make thin, fried cornbread when I was growing up. I’d never be able to do it. There was skill involved, and it was delicious. My cousin, Patti, still makes it, but I need a special brand of fine cornmeal that I can’t find in Charlotte. I’ll get Patti to bring me some next time she comes to town. Interestingly, the fried breads are round, which would be great if I could make them, because round foods are considered good luck in some countries. We used to eat it till we just couldn’t eat any more. I’ll make cornbread, but it will be regular baked, buttermilk cornbread. Why cornbread? Apparently, because of the golden color, it represents gold. I see a theme here. Southerners seem to want luck and prosperity in the new year!
-Champagne (or prosecco). Yes, I have bubbly not just on New Year’s Eve, but also on New Year’s Day, because it’s a celebration, after all. I have always believed we should start the new year on the right foot…celebrating. And bubbly goes great with all the foods listed above. And if you don’t like the foods listed above, it’s a lot easier to wash them down with bubbly!
Clearly, my traditions, except “Rabbit! Rabbit!” are all based around food! The good news for me is that these are some of my very favorite foods. For my family, though, it’s not one of their favorite meals, so they’ll choke down a few bites. We’d normally have lots of leftovers, but my nephew and a friend are coming to town this year, so I know they’ll help me eat it. I’ll have some pickled onions on hand, too, because they go so well with all of these foods! My mouth is watering just thinking about it!