Black-eyed peas, cabbage rings in New Year with traditional flair

Published 10:53 am Friday, January 1, 2010

By Sherry Koonce

The News staff writer

Whether its for luck or money, no New Year’s celebration would be complete in the South without the traditional cabbage and black-eyed peas known for the promise of an abundant and prosperous year.

Locally, cooks from one corner of Southeast Texas to the other are preparing the lucky dishes while friends and family gather to ring in the New Year with a fanfare that started years, if not centuries ago.

“Its an old tradition that keeps me healthy, and hopefully with a little bit of money going into the new year,” Frank Watson, 79, of Groves said.

Watson, who was shopping in Bruce’s Market Basket in Groves Thursday, said he wasn’t sure why he ate the traditional foods every year, but he seldom a year passed without the time-honored tradition.

“I missed it a few years, but it all worked out about the same. Of course if I had eaten peas and cabbage, the year might have been better. You never known,” Watson said.

Some say the practice of eating black-eyed peas started during the time of the Pharaoh as a symbol of good luck and fortune. The belief was that those who ate the inexpensive lintels did so as a show of humility, thus sparing themselves from wrath of the heavens which frowns on undue vanity.

Black-eye pea lore also has roots in the old South. As the story goes, while Vicksburg was under siege for more than 40 days of Civil War battle, no supplies came in or out. Because the townspeople were near starvation, they had no choice but to eat those black-eyed peas, therefore starting a southern tradition. Today, black-eyes are eaten every New Year’s Day to bring good luck for the new year.

Other eat the New Year’s food for a simpler reason — just because they like it.

“I love cabbage. It stinks up the house, so New Year’s is a good excuse for me to get my wife to cook it,” Watson said.

Panki Foster was among those filling her grocery buggy full of cabbage and black-eyed peas Thursday.

The Groves resident said she planned to cook cabbage, black-eyed peas, cornbread and ham — the usual for her family’s holiday gathering.

“I’m not superstitious, but its fund to go with tradition,” she said.

Sandra Gomez, of Groves, said she included the foods on her New Year’s menu every year mainly because she likes them.

“We’ve got about 10 people coming over, and this is our favorite holiday meal because we are tired of turkey and dressing,” she said. In years past, Gomez said her grandmother would slip a silver dollar into a big pan of peas. Whoever found the silver dollar in their serving would be the luckiest person there.

Whether they come for luck or for their appetites, Bruce’s Produce Manager Gayllan Thibeaux stays busy this time of year.

He’s noticing that more and more people are eating fresh black-eyes, and can barely keep the items on the shelves this time of year.

“We may sell 600 bags of fresh peas, and a lot more cabbage — about 10,000 pounds. And that’s a lot of cabbage,” he said.

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