For those of us who grew up in the South, a New Year’s Day meal was not complete without a plate of black-eyed peas. I recall my grandmother, who lives in California but never lost her elegant Tidewater Virginia drawl, simmering these unassuming cream-colored black-dotted legumes in plenty of water in a big pot. She added bay leaves and a smoked ham hock. When tender, the peas were served hot with collard greens and buttermilk cornbread. It was a hearty, tasty meal meant to bring lots of good luck in the new year.

But how did the humble black-eyed pea get to the New Year’s Day table?

“Peas have been all that stood between Southerners and starvation at times,” said Jamie Ross, who is making a documentary film about the mixing and melding of African, Native American and European cultures — specifically regarding food — in the American South. “Booker T. Washington talks about how if they didn’t have anything else, people had peas and cornbread. Maybe that’s why we eat them on New Year’s Day. They remind us that we’ve made it this far and we can make it another year.”

Learn more about the origin of black-eyed peas in the post I wrote for KPCC.

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