To launch our 2010 blogging, here’s a cultural take on our core theme of folk medicines and prescription drugs derived from natural sources (plants, fungi, marine creatures, and microorganisms terrestrial and aquatic).
I’ve lived in the southern United States for a combined 15 years but it was only when I married into a southern family that I was assimilated into the tradition of eating collard greens and black-eyed peas to kick off the New Year.
I’m told that the custom is a mashup of African American tradition adapted by southern whites that sustained all through the Civil War and the Great Depression.
Mike Stucka of Georgia’s Macon Telegraph has compiled a couple of hypotheses today:
The source of the traditions isn’t especially clear, and they haven’t attracted much interest from researchers.
Some stories say the black-eyed peas became the South’s salvation after Union troops destroyed other crops.
Others trace the peas themselves to Africa and speculate they made it here during the slave trade. Jewish people were eating black-eyed peas for good luck in their New Year’s celebrations about 2,500 years ago.
Some traditions hold that the black-eyed peas represent coins, and collards can represent cash.
Judge Esther Barger of East Texas’s Diboll Free Press cites the Civil War origin as tracing back to Vicksburg, Mississippi, when locals found a stockpile of black-eyed peas after the city had run out of food following an attack.
With all you scholars out there, I’m certain that some of you are aware of formal sources for some of these explanations. As of today, the Wikipedia entry for black-eyed pea, not The Black-Eyed Peas, supports the adaptation of the Jewish tradition by southerners from Sephardi Jewish settlers to Georgia in the 1730s.
Personally, collard greens are an acquired taste, enhanced by some vinegar and bacon or some other pork product.
Black-eyed peas, on the other hand, are something I could eat all day. They are highly-reminiscent of perhaps my favorite southern food: hot boiled peanuts. I first learned of boiled green peanuts from roadside stands in northern Florida (which everyone knows is really part of southern Georgia).
But boiled peanuts are for another post.
In the meantime, to all of my dear friends – in person, online, across town, and around the world – I wish you all of the best for good health and happiness in the upcoming year.
Rick also links to Peas for Prosperity, the site of recovering attorney and Atlanta-area social activist Christy Annis. Among her many activities to support the community, one dollar from the sale of each bag of Peas for Prosperity goes to the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
Addendum #2: James Neal in South Carolina just reminded me via Twitter that he is having “Hoppin’ John,” a dish of rice and black-eyed peas shared along the SC Low Country that was influenced by Caribbean transplants.