Black-eyed peas traditional fare for New Year’s

By Don McAlavy: Columnist

Back in 1978 Christene Hardisty, Extension home economist for Curry County, shared a bit of folklore on black-eyed peas. I am deep into eating black-eyed peas and always ate some for sure on Jan. 1. It is a law that one does that in my family, as my mother was born and raised in Alabama.

According to Christene, for more than a century, Southerners have observed the tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck. Here is her account.

“My folks, being Southerners,” she said, “left the impression with me that black-eyed peas were actually the manna which God provided the Israelites in the wilderness.

“The earliest folklore centers around post-Civil War days when a scorched earth policy of Sherman’s Northern invaders left most of the South’s countryside bleak and bare. Many a Southern family was considered lucky to have back-eyed peas, cornbread and a bit of hog jowl to put on the table.

“Smokehouses and granaries were prime targets of passing troops.

Since hog jowl was the least-inviting, most-meatless part of the hog, these were often left. Not much to brag about, but it does season a pot of black-eyed peas delightfully.

“Another bit of folklore has it that General Sam Houston ate a big meal of black-eyed peas and hog jowls on the evening before the battle of San Jacinto. Texas may owe its independence to this misnamed bean.

“One farmer who was down on his luck is said to have eaten black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. The next day, with gloomy thoughts of the coming year, he started working on a fence. While digging a posthole, he unearthed a pot of Spanish gold doubloons.

“Folklore also promises that a person will earn a dollar for every pea he eats on New Year’s Day. At this rate, even if you only ate a dozen tablespoonsful, you could only make a thousand dollars next year. When this tale started, a yearly income of a thousand dollars was considerably above average.

“Well, black-eyed peas may or may not be capable of all these powers, but they are an excellent source of carbohydrates, which provide energy, some “B” vitamins and significant amounts of iron, calcium and protein.”

Here’s a good recipe, not Christene’s, but Glenda Belcher’s, current County Extension agent/home economist. It’s called “Hot Texas Caviar
(Black-Eyed Pea Dip).

Two (15-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, drained.
One (15-ounce) can ranch-style black-eyed peas with jalapenos, drained.
One-half (12-ounce) can Rotel tomatoes, drained.
One cup shredded cheddar cheese.
One cup Velveeta cheese, cubed.
One onion, chopped.
One (4-ounce) can diced green chilies.
Salt and pepper.

Be sure to eat black-eyed peas this New Year’s, and next year you may be able to add to the folklore tales.

A little history about Christene Long Hardisty is in order. She was born May 1, 1934, in Dora. She was a Clovis resident most of her life. She was a professor at New Mexico State University and worked for the Curry County Cooperative Extension Service. She was the county home economist for 14 years. She was married to Dan Hardisty. She was 56 when she died April 8, 1991.