As festive carols fill the winter air, candles are lit in celebration, and seasonal dishes are shared by loved ones, this time of year is always marked by joyous holiday traditions. With 2022 on the horizon, resolutions for the year ahead are on the mind for many of us. While there are many ways to celebrate the beginning of a new year, a trip to the grocery store to pick up some black-eyed peas is a good place to start.
According to this timeless Southern tradition, eating a black-eyed pea on New Year’s Day brings good luck for the year ahead. Also known as cowpeas or southern beans, black-eyed peas are actually native to West Africa and are a familiar part of the cuisine of the region. Today, many Texans enjoy a bowl of black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck and prosperity to start off the new calendar year. In fact, Athens, Texas is known as the “Black-Eyed Pea Capital of the World.” In 1971, this East Texas town hosted the first annual summer “Black-Eyed Pea Jamboree,” and over the years this festival has attracted many famous Texas country artists including Willie Nelson, Ronny Milsap, and the Bellamy Brothers, whose familiar tunes entice families of all ages to enjoy this celebration.
While there are many origin stories behind this New Year’s Day tradition, the Texas Department of Agriculture traces it back to the days of the Civil War. It was common for Union soldiers to burn southern crops, however, those soldiers spared the black-eyed peas because they viewed it as livestock feed. The leftover crop of black-eyed peas saved Confederate troops and southern communities from starvation.
But how did black-eyed peas become a Lone Star fixture? In 1909, J.B. Henry, a businessman from Athens, began to grow black-eyed peas in large quantities after discovering how to dry them, making them a more practical agricultural product to ship across the globe. In the late 1930s, canning plants popped up across East Texas and through the 1970s, these homegrown Texas businesses became the largest producers of black-eyed peas in the world. While production has slowed down, you can still find many local farmers and gardeners growing the peas that put Athens on the map.
How might our fellow Texans cook up this new-year staple? They could make it into an appetizer such as a black-eyed pea dip or Texas caviar, a salad consisting of black-eyed peas, an assortment of vegetables, and a vinaigrette dressing. Typically, Texas caviar is also served with another Texas favorite, tortilla chips.
Another way to serve up black-eyed peas is to cook them as a simple side dish for the family dinner table. Add a kick with a little bit of spice from jalapeños or an extra bit of pizzazz by pairing it with fresh cornbread and butter.
Alongside the black-eyed pea tradition, other southerners believe that eating certain greens, like cabbage, collard greens, kale, and spinach, also bring good luck for the new year.
No matter if you’re using canned, dried, or fresh black-eyed peas, don’t forget to serve up this dish in any form or fashion to ring in the new year. Even if you’re not superstitious, gather around a pot of black-eyed peas and celebrate this tradition with family, friends, and loved ones.