Every New Year’s Day it is my family’s tradition to eat a meal containing black eyed peas. My grandmother was born and raised in Louisiana and she believed that eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day promised good luck, health, and abundance. True believers eat 365 black eyed peas for a year of luck, cornbread for gold, and greens for dollars. Some even cook the peas with a coin in the pot. My husband makes the most delicious vegetarian “Hoppin’ John” which makes eating 365 peas very delectable. Black eyed peas swell when they cook which symbolizes an expansion of wealth.
According to food scholar, Adrian Miller, during the Civil War the Union Soldiers raided the farms of Confederate families taking everything but black eyed peas and salt pork because neither were fit for human consumption. Those peas and salt pork fed the Confederate families for a year, which is how it developed its reputation for good luck. History tells us that slaves ate black eyed peas on January 1, 1863, the day the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect because that was all they had to eat. There’s evidence that people ate black eyed peas as part of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year for hundreds of years, dating back to A.D. 500.
Eat poor on New Year’s and eat fat the rest of the year” is a popular Southern expression, according to The Farmer’s Almanac.
The Lemon Pig is another New Year’s Day tradition that began over a hundred years ago as a cheap craft project for children. These pigs faded into obscurity until cookbook author, Anna Pallai posted a picture of a lemon pig on twitter in 2017. The lemon pig was from a 1970’s book on entertaining with the caption, ‘For luck in the New Year, a lemon pig is a must!”. Lemon pigs have friends in high places, celebrity chef, Jacques Pepin likes lemon pigs so much that he has described how to make them in two of his cookbooks. In the Chinese zodiac, pigs are a symbol of wealth and good fortune, lemons are shaped like pigs.
To make a lemon pig, add toothpick legs to a lemon, cut a tiny nose and mouth, then add peppercorns or cloves for eyes. For the tail: curled aluminum foil, parsley, or string work best. Finally, insert a shiny penny in the pig’s mouth. It is believed that the pig will bring you luck, smell good, and look adorable on your kitchen counter. Many people keep the lemon pig all year as a comical barometer of the past year.
President Rutherford B. Hayes received a lemon pig from a constituent during his time in office in the late 19th century. The pig, surviving over 100 years, its rind body withered and brown, is displayed in the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. Proof of a lemon pig’s longevity if not luck.
Kate Emery General is a retired chef/restaurant owner that was born and raised in Casper, Wyoming. Kate loves her grandchildren, knitting and watercolor painting. Kate and her husband , Matt are longtime residents of Cambridge’s West End where they enjoy swimming and bicycling.