In high heaven with lowly black-eyed peas

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, January 2, 2001

I was scanning through the state’s “big city” newspaper theother day when I came across a story about New Year’s food. That’swhen I realized I needed to get some black-eyed peas to have on thefirst day of 2001.

This particular article got me to thinking about the traditionof eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. Legend has it thatblack-eyed peas bring good luck. Anyway, that’s what my mama’salways told me, and I believe her. It’s what her mama told her,too.

This particular article referred to the “lowly little pea.”Recipes bearing the names “Salmon Caviar Torte”, “Smoked Salmon,Cucumber and Dill Mousse,” and “Chicken Liver Pate with Walnuts andFigs” were suggested for New Year’s parties.

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Oh, yuck. They all sound about as appetizing as somethingscraped off the bottom of a shoe. I’ll take the “lowly little pea”any day.

Now, as for the history of this New Year’s tradition, one talegoes this way. . .

Back in the days of the wild, wild west, Southern gentility andNorthern hostility, black-eyed peas were used strictly for thefeeding of cattle in the South. During the Civil War battle ofVicksburg, the town was under siege for over 40 days. No supplieswent in and none came out. The entire town was on the brink ofstarvation. So, Vicksburg residents were forced to eat those humble’cowpeas’ to survive.

Here’s another war story . . .

Black-eyed peas even survived the Union Army. Mistaking thelowly crop for livestock feed, Yankee soldiers reportedly didn’tbother to burn fields of the peas, thus leaving a nutritious androbust crop for the Southerners to harvest and dry for thewinter.

Other stories go this way . . .

All the way back to Pharaoh, black-eyed peas have been symbol ofluck and fortune. The superstition is that those who eatblack-eyes, an inexpensive and modest food, show their humility andsave themselves from the wrath of the heavens because of the vanitythey might have.

Some believe that if you eat poor on New Year’s Day, you willeat rich the rest of the year.

Others believe that the number of peas eaten determines thenumber of good luck days in the new year.

And, some attach their beliefs to money. They believe that byeating black-eyed peas their wealth will swell just like the driedlittle peas do when soaked in water.

Others think black-eyed peas look like coins.

That notion’s a bit far-fetched to me, but I guess if your headhurts badly enough on New Year’s Day anything’s possible.

I found, too, that black-eyed pea eaters tend to fall into twocategories: those who like ’em mushy and those who don’t.

It makes no difference to me. I like them either way, especiallywith pork chops, cabbage and cornbread.

Have a happy new year, and don’t forget to pass the peastomorrow.

Write to Nanette Laster at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, Miss.39602, send faxes to 833-6714, or e-mail to’d love to hear from you.