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Why Black-Eyed Peas Mean Good Luck

Updated on January 17, 2017

Lucky Legumes

Called crowder peas because the peas look like they are all crowded together in the shell.
Called crowder peas because the peas look like they are all crowded together in the shell. | Source

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

Called southern peas, black eyed peas, crowder peas, these peas are good for you and good for your garden.
Called southern peas, black eyed peas, crowder peas, these peas are good for you and good for your garden. | Source

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

Neighbors showed up for their annual helping of good luck.
Neighbors showed up for their annual helping of good luck. | Source

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?

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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 one variety of cow peas. Traditionally these peas are seasoned with ham or bacon.
Black-eyed peas are one variety of cow peas. Traditionally these peas are seasoned with ham or bacon. | Source

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.

Called Southern peas, these legumes fix nitrogen in the soil, just like soy beans or clover.
Called Southern peas, these legumes fix nitrogen in the soil, just like soy beans or clover. | Source

Young peas are sweet

Planting legumes is one of the best things you can do for your garden.
Planting legumes is one of the best things you can do for your garden. | Source

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.

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  • Patsybell profile image
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    Patsy Bell Hobson 2 years ago from zone 6a, SEMO

    Au fait, your recipe sounds good to me. I don't think the world will come crashing down on me if I do not eat peas on New Years day. But it is a fun family tradition. Thank you for reading my hub.

  • Patsybell profile image
    Author

    Patsy Bell Hobson 2 years ago from zone 6a, SEMO

    PegCole17, most of our traditions and superstitions were once based on some modicum of truth. I welcome the New Year with this simple meal after all the holiday's riches and sweets. Thank you for reading my hubs.

  • Au fait profile image

    C E Clark 2 years ago from North Texas

    I'd never heard of this tradition until I met my late husband, a Texan through and through. He always insisted we had to have black eyed peas on New Year's day. I used to mix them in with rice, onions, and green peppers. They were great that way.

  • PegCole17 profile image

    Peg Cole 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

    This is really interesting and finally, I understand why these lovely peas are considered good luck. Your stories made for an entertaining and informative read. Sharing and pinning.

  • Jackie Lynnley profile image

    Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

    Wow you have made this so interesting. I never knew this story but I know my dad always had black eyed peas and I would too for years but just seemed a waste just me eating them but dag, just sounds like a great tradition, will start it back!

  • vibesites profile image

    vibesites 3 years ago from United States

    I haven't seen a black-eyed pea yet but I realize it looks like my favorite mung bean (especially in the top pic). Very informative hub :)

  • Patsybell profile image
    Author

    Patsy Bell Hobson 3 years ago from zone 6a, SEMO

    I grow cow peas, though not black eyed peas. The ones I plant are purple hull peas. Thanks for your comments.

  • Natashalh profile image

    Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

    I'm not saying I'm superstitious, but I always have black eyed peas, greens, and pork on New Year's! I've already had some today =) I didn't know the Vicksburg story - very interesting!

  • Patsybell profile image
    Author

    Patsy Bell Hobson 3 years ago from zone 6a, SEMO

    Thank you. Peace and prosperity to you this New Year.

  • The Dirt Farmer profile image

    Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

    Hey Patsybell. Enjoyed reading this hub. One of your best! Shared & voted up. Happy New Year! --Jill

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