One of the truly great time-honored Southern traditions involves food. OK, most time-honored Southern traditions involve food (which is why I'm so glad I'm a Southerner), but this one is New Year's Day-specific. To ensure good luck and prosperity in the coming year, a meal of black-eyed peas and greens (of the collard or turnip persuasion, usually) must be consumed on the first day of the year. Add a wedge of homemade cornbread, and you'll have extra-good luck, if only for the meal at hand.
I'm not sure where the tradition started - probably a couple of hundred years ago - but it's one we've kept in my family, however scattered, ever since I can remember. The tradition says that the peas represent good luck and the greens money. Mother always told me that the peas represented coin-money and the greens folding-money. But it doesn't matter where the tradition came from or how it's interpreted, because starting off the year with black-eyed peas, greens, and cornbread is a fine way to begin anything.
I started my black-eyed peas last night because I wanted to make sure the finely-chopped onions and jalepenos had a chance to season them overnight. It's turnip greens, not collards, for me this year, and I plan to eat plenty, since I need all the folding-money I can get. We Southerners believe in cooking vegetables near to death with whatever fattening element is at hand. Yankees turn up their noses at this, but all I can say is that I come from parents and grandparents who lived to ripe old ages consuming this stuff.
Wish you could smell the cornbread right now, browning up nicely in my little cast-iron skillet. A meal worth its weight in gold (and yeah, calories).
May your peas and greens bring you a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2010. Feel free to add all the tabasco, pepper sauce, and bacon drippings you want. Pass the cornbread, please!