By Sean Keeley, culinary specialist, Lincoln Land Community College
Many cultures all over the globe have New Year’s Day food traditions. Certain foods are eaten to bring either good luck, good fortune or long life. Most of these traditions have some common links, either the colors green, silver or gold (representing money), long, unbroken noodles (representing long life) or many pieces per pot like beans, rice and lentils (representing abundance) are just a few.
Pork is also a symbol of good luck. Other farm animals like chickens and turkeys move backwards as they scratch and search for food, pigs tirelessly root forward in the hunt for nourishment. To many cultures this constant moving forward is a symbol of progress and earned the pig a spot on the center of the table for New Year’s Day. But also in ancient times it made sense to slaughter large animals in cold months to help preserve the fresh meat for longer and not have to cure it in salt for a later time.
“Peas for pennies, greens for dollars and cornbread for gold” is an old Southern saying. Black-eyed peas are actually beans. During the winter the “peas” are purchased dried and are half the size of fresh. Many beans can fit into the pot and after cooking they will double in size – so, double your wealth! After the Civil War the Union soldiers ate up Southern crops, but upon departure they left behind black-eyed peas which they considered livestock feed making it a staple food item for those rebuilding the South. I personally think black-eyed peas have the most flavor of any bean; there is a nice earthy, vegetable flavor to them unlike any other legume.
In Italy the dish for luck is sausage and lentils. Cooked together, the sausage is cut into coin shapes and the lentils themselves look like the old Roman coins from back in the day that were not perfectly round and were brownish in color. In Germany, pork and sauerkraut bring good luck for the New Year. In Scandinavia herring is the food for luck with its many, round silver scales representing money. As the migratory patterns of herring vary from year to year, harvesting on a seasonal basis is unpredictable. Pickled herring became a way to ensure its availability on New Year’s Day.
Black-eyed peas with cornbread
If using dried peas and you do not have time to soak overnight, here is a quick method. Add one pound of dry beans to a large pot with 10 cups of unsalted water. Bring to a boil and let cook for two minutes, cover and remove from heat and allow to sit for an hour. Drain the beans and give them a rinse. Be sure to drain, as this water will contain the sugars from the beans that earn them the nickname “the magical fruit.” This will yield 45 ounces of cooked beans. Proceed with recipe below.
2 tablespoons oil
1 small onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced
2 bay leaves
1.5 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
45 ounces of cooked or canned black-eyed peas
1 ham hock, or ham bone (optional)
2 cups diced ham
salt & pepper to taste
In a large pot heat oil over medium and add vegetables, garlic, thyme and bay leaves and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the onions begin to turn clear. Add the stock, ham hock or bone and beans. Bring to a simmer and let cook for 30 minutes, add diced ham and cook for 15 more minutes. Check beans for tenderness, they should be soft but still hold their shape. Season with salt and pepper.
Forty-five minutes cooking time will not be long enough to make the ham hock tender, but will add lots of flavor to the pot. If there is too much liquid in the pot some may be drained off, or if you like your beans more like porridge then use a potato masher and smash some beans. Allow to cook five minutes to thicken up. For vegetarian beans omit ham and ham hock and use vegetable stock.
If you like spicy, try adding a minced jalapeño or two in with the veggies or add some crushed red pepper with the spices. Sliced green onions and crispy bacon crumbles make a nice garnish.
For the cornbread here is a hack I like to use with the Jiffy brand mix.
2 boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons honey
Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray inside of 9×13 pan. Mix together the first 5 ingredients and pour into pan. Cook for 25 minutes, but check with a toothpick after the first 20-22 minutes. Once the toothpick comes out clean the cornbread is ready. Allow to cool slightly before cutting and have a prosperous and very Happy New Year!!!
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry, along with non-credit classes through the Culinary Institute. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts.