At least black-eyed peas aren’t fattening

By Karl Terry: Local columnist

Hopefully as you read this you’ve got the Tournament of Roses Parade on your television, the lineup of football bowl games spread on the coffee table and a pot of black-eyed peas on the stove.

I’ve never been too big on setting resolutions for the new year. Sure it’s a good time to start anew and maybe even change things in your life. But most of the standard resolutions have to do with will-power and my will-power is usually at low tide right after the holidays. Why advertise the fact that you want to lose weight? Just do it quietly and take the praise if it works and avoid the shame if you falter as soon as the dessert tray comes by on New Year’s Day.

I do buy into the superstitions and traditions that go along with New Year’s Day, however, including eating black-eyed peas. I guess I’ve had them every New Year’s Day of my life, probably close to a bushel consumed by now, and I’m not wealthy and prosperous yet. My fear is, if I stop eating them I might really go straight to the poor house.

They’re better now, but I never liked the canned black-eyed peas we used to get. I loved fresh peas with lots of green snaps in the summer. I found the best way to tolerate those lousy canned peas was with a good dose of my grandmother’s chow-chow. Add some hot buttered cornbread and you could make a meal of it if need be. My preference these days is to make them a side dish to a nice juicy grilled steak.

Over the years I’ve encountered lots of Yankees who didn’t quite get the whole black-eyed pea thing. Even my mother-in-law told me once how she was confused after they moved from Iowa to New Mexico years ago and found the bank giving out cans of black-eyed peas right after Christmas. She started serving them though.

I’ve never had a good answer for why we eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day because everyone I ever asked always just said it was tradition. Now with the power of the Internet I’m finally able to give an answer. Who knows if it’s the right one or not. We’re talking about a tradition or superstition, after all.

Several Web pages talk about the tradition and most agree that the good luck superstition probably dates back to ancient Egypt. Because people who ate the modest, inexpensive food showed their humility and would be favored by the heavens.

In the southern U.S., where the custom is biggest, it probably got its start in Civil War time. During the battle of Vicksburg, that town fell under siege for 40 days with no supplies in or out. That forced the townspeople to eat the “cowpeas,” which they normally only fed to the cows, to avoid starvation. Of course that siege didn’t occur anywhere near New Year’s Day, it was May and June, but a Southern tradition was somehow spawned.

Some people say the copper color of the peas represent coins and the green of cabbage, collared greens or the pea snaps represent dollar bills, therefore ensuring wealth. It’s even been said that the number of peas eaten each represent a dollar in the new year. If that were true, we’d sure be in for gaseous celebration each year.

I like the tradition and I plan on keeping it alive. I also like the tradition of a toast and a New Year’s kiss with my sweet wife. I’ll keep that one alive too. As for losing weight in the new year — I’m not telling.

Karl Terry writes for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. He can be contacted at 356-4483, ext. 33. His e-mail address is: karl_terry@link.freedom.com