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Start the Year with Luck: the Tradition of Eating Black-Eyed Peas on New Year's Day

The story of the Southern tradition of eating black-eyed peas as the first meal on New Year's Day is generally believed to date back to the winter of 1864 - 1865.

When Union General William T. Sherman led his invading troops on their destructive march through Georgia, the fields of black-eyed peas were largely left untouched because they were deemed fit only for animals.

The Union foragers took everything, plundered the land, and left what they could not take, burning or in shambles.

But two things did remain, the lowly peas and good Ol’ Southern salted pork.

As a result, the humble yet nourishing black-eyed peas saved surviving Southerners - mainly women, children, elderly and the disabled veterans of the Confederate army - from mass starvation and were thereafter regarded as a symbol of good luck.

The peas are said to represent good fortune. Certainly the starving Southern families and soldiers were fortunate to have those meager supplies.

According to the tradition and folklore, the peas are served with several other dishes that symbolically represent good fortune, health, wealth, and prosperity in the coming year.

Some folks still traditionally cook the black-eyed peas with a silver dime in the pot as a symbol of good fortune.

Greens represent wealth and paper money. Any greens will do, but in the South the most popular are collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, and cabbage.

Cornbread - a regular staple among Southerners in the absence of wheat - symbolizes gold and is very good for soaking up the juice from the greens on the plate.

You should always have some cornbread on hand in your kitchen anyway. Good for dinner and in the morning with syrup.

Pork symbolizes bountiful prosperity, and then progressing into the year ahead. Ham and hog jowls are typical with the New Year meal, though sometimes bacon will be used, too. Pigs root forward, so it’s the symbolic moving forward for the New Year.

Tomatoes are often eaten with this meal as well. They represent health and wealth.

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