Ever since I was a little girl, my mother has always cooked black eyed peas and cabbage, along with corn bread on New Year's day. She was always very adamant about us having to have this for health, wealth and good fortune. I didn't realize until I got older that most folks in the south believed this bit of folklore or superstition. Some actually cook some form of greens instead of cabbage...turnip greens, mustard greens or collards, but my mother always cooks cabbage. If you go to any grocery store in our area the week before New Year's Day, there will be a big display of black eyed peas and plenty of heads of cabbage. If you wait until the night before New Year's Day, there won't be any left.
The belief is that the black eyed peas represent good fortune and prosperity and the greens or cabbage also represent money...you know, because they are 'green'. Some say this tradition with the black eyed peas came about during the Civil War, because the northern troops burned all of the crops and took everything from the southern folks that was good to eat, but because black eyed peas were only grown to feed to the livestock they left those alone. The southerners had to eat them to survive. Others say that the tradition started over 1500 years ago in Europe and was brought to this country.
I have a secret confession to make, I don't really like the taste of black eyed peas. I know I am supposed to like them, they are a southern thing and I am writing about and trying to further southern foods and culture, but I just don't like black eyed peas. Just cooked by themselves, they taste a little like dirt to me. I thought I might be odd in this thinking, but I have an aunt that says the same thing.
Now if you dress the ugly little critters up some and give them enough spice, I can eat them up. Needless to say, growing up in a family where you had to eat what was put in front of you, I have eaten plenty of them just plain. However, when I started cooking them for my own New Year's good luck, I knew they had to be dressed up a little. Otherwise, I was just going to have to do without luck. Hoppin' John was the perfect solution. This is a thick soup of black eyed peas, rice, spices and some type of meat...pork mainly. Here is what you will need for this:
1 lb. dried black eyed peas, washed
8 cups water
4 chicken bouillon cubes (I used Knorr)
1 Tbs. bacon drippings
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium green pepper, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 Tbs. garlic, minced
1 lb. breakfast sausage, crumbled and browned
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. Cajun Seasoning (I used Tony Cachere)
dash of Tabasco sauce (according to your taste)
2 cups rice, uncooked
jalapeno rings for garnish
Place all of the ingredients, except the rice in a slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours or overnight. Cook rice. Place a scoop of rice in each bowl and ladle the Hoppin' John over all. Now you have black eyed peas that most anyone will want to eat!