Why Black-Eyed Peas Mean Good Luck
During the Civil War battle of Vicksburg, Northern troops laid siege to the town for 40 days. The Union army raided all the food supplies and burned everything else.
They left the black-eyed peas because they thought the peas were weeds. At that time they were called "cowpeas" and were mainly used to feed cattle.
With no supplies coming in, the citizens suffered great deprivation. There wasn't anything to eat. In desperation, they ate those humble "cowpeas" and felt lucky just to have survived the war.
Purple hull peas
Their Meaning on New Year's Day
The first New Year's Day meal is loaded with symbolism.
Black-eyed peas are said to bring good luck when eaten on New Year’s Day. No matter what else is served, the New Years Day table must include black-eyed peas, collard greens and cornbread.
Peas represent pennies or coins, leafy collards represent money and cornbread is gold. Another southern dish, Hoppin' John, made with peas and rice, is art of this tradition in some families.
A Spoon Full of Luck
A New Year's Tradition
Mom’s community service
Black-eyed peas are part of our tradition and it is fun to have traditions. My Mother, and her mother, my grandmother, always served black eyed peas on New Year's Day.
When I was a kid, our next door neighbor, a Pennsylvania transplant, didn't care to serve peas on New Year's Day. But just to be sure she was covered by black eyed pea karma, she came over to our house and had a single tablespoon of peas every New Years Day.
When the doorbell rang, kids would race to open the door and greet Miss Ella with “Happy New Year!” Momma scooped out a tablespoon of peas from the simmering bean pot on the stove.
Grimacing, Miss Ella suffered down that tablespoon of mamma’s black-eyed peas. It was high drama and great entertainment watching her eat the obligatory peas.
Tradition or Superstition?
Why do you eat black eyed peas every New Year's Day?
Do You Hate Black-Eyed Peas?
For folks who do not like the taste of California Blackeye Peas, try other varieties. Most are milder tasting and creamy in texture. Look for Lady Peas, Purple Hull Pinkeye Cowpea, Green Eyed Cowpea or Calico Crowder Pea.
Black Eyed Peas Are Good Luck for the Garden
In the late 1800s, most people lived on small farms. The family's well being was closely tied to their skill as farmers and gardeners.
Black-eyed peas were a common crop. Since they stored well as dried peas they could provide the family with a good food source for many months.
Southern peas are a legume that uses symbiotic bacteria to supply itself with nitrogen, so it is possible to raise a good crop even on relatively infertile soils.
In many soils of the southeast, the nitrogen fixed by the bacteria remains in the soil. This improved the soil through the next crop. Whatever crop followed, had the advantage of the nitrogen enriched soil. Crop rotation from peas to other crops was soon known to be a good practice.
Families who planted enough of their land in peas that they were still eating them into the New Year were lucky.
But also, the pea crop enriched their soil with the nitrogen which would lead to better crops in the spring. Families began to associate peas on New Year's day as a sign of good luck to follow.
Young peas are sweet
How to Grow Black-Eyed Peas
Plant peas 1 inch deep and 4 to 6 inches apart. Soil must be warm (at least 60 º) for beans to germinate. Soaking peas in water overnight before planting will speed up germination.
Soil must be well drained. Do not apply additional fertilizer. Like all legumes, cowpeas have the ability to fix their own nitrogen from the air.
Planting in too rich soil or fertilizing will cause the plants to grow large at the expense of pod production. Do not over water, they are known for their drought tolerance.
Even if you are not a fan of black-eyed peas, consider planting them as a cover crop. Or, include beans or peas in crop rotation to improve garden soil.
Called southern peas, black-eyed peas, crowder peas, these legumes fix nitrogen in the soil, just like soy beans or clover. Originally they were brought to this country with the slaves from Africa.
Famously Good Peas
Thomas Jefferson grew cowpeas in his 1770s garden. George Washington Carver encouraged growing and eating black-eyed peas because they add nitrogen to the soil and have a high nutritional value. These legumes contain calcium, folate, protein, fiber and vitamin A.
Other well-known black-eyed pea dishes are a cold side dish, Texas caviar: peas marinated in a vinaigrette-style dressing. "Hoppin' John", containing peas, rice, and pork.They are also found in Indian and Asian curry dishes served with rice.