Starting the New Year right is so important. What’s the most significant first step? Eating ample servings of collard greens and black-eyed peas guarantees good health and fortune (or so we have been told).
The explanations for the symbolism of collard greens and black-eyed peas are many and vary by cultural traditions, many brought into the South. In some families, the greens represent paper money and the peas represent coins. (Special hint: serve also with cornbread, which can represent gold.)
Waking up on January 1 and deciding to start the year right is critical. However, even more critical is preparing the greens and peas in advance so that they are ready on New Year’s Day. Don’t wait until the start of the year to check the pantry. It may be bare!
Preparing on December 31 guarantees that you are set on New Year’s Day. The need to cook collards for a long time is another reason to prepare them the day before. Preparing black-eyed peas, on the other hand, is a cinch (as long as you have them on hand).
On New Year's Day, have greens and peas ready to serve family and friends at anytime during the day. (A purist may even want them for breakfast.) If you have a special family gathering, bring stuffed collard wraps or rolls as appetizers (a filling of black-eyed peas and rice is tasty) so everyone can have a promising start for the new year.
Even after January 1, look for opportunities to celebrate with collards and black eyed peas, such as by attending a festival. North Carolina even has two festivals for collards: one in Ayden and the other in Maxton. (To see recent photos of the Maxton Collard Festival, click here.) Georgia also has two: one serves the metro Atlanta region and the other is on the coast near Savannah in Port Wentworth. In addition, South Carolina has one in Gaston. To celebrate the black-eyed pea, Mississippi’s festival is held in Mantee each October, and Texas has a black-eyed pea festival and cookoff also in October.
Starting the New Year correctly is so vitally important. Teach your children that they need to each their fair shares of collard greens and black-eyed peas before the sun sets on January 1. If they do, life is good.
If you are preparing collards for the first time, follow this approach and adjust the next time based on your taste preferences.
3 pounds collard greens
½ cup ham or pork pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 quart hot water
2 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- Initial setup
- First, buy only local collards.
- Wash the leaves thoroughly (and more than once to remove sand and any grit).
- Remove the stems and any bad spots.
- Roll up several leaves and make “ribbons” by slicing them about an inch apart. (Greens can also be chopped or shredded.)
- Cook leftover ham pieces slowly in oil until crisp.
- Add water and simmer for about 15 minutes.
- Add cut greens and bring water to a boil.
- Sweeten with brown sugar and apple cider vinegar.
- Cook on low heat for at least an hour with the pot covered.
- Add water as necessary to keep greens well covered.
- Stir occasionally and submerge greens with a spoon (because they float to the top).
- Remove from heat when leaves are tender. (Leaves will be floppy and have a kelly green color.)
- Last step
- Save broth (known as pot likker) for your friends who appreciate its nutritional value.
- Chop collards into smaller pieces before serving if you like.