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Black Eyed Peas For New Years: History?

How did Black eyed peas come about as a New Year's tradition in the South? Is it a tradition still widely followed?
Are there variations, or one true recipe?

Is it a tradition across all classes and races?

How about other parts of the country?
Same dish or unknown where you are?

I'd love to hear your stories. Thanks.

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  1. Well, I really had no idea why we eat black eyed peas on New Years, but we do! It's for luck and financial prosperity. You have to make them with ham hocks, salt pork or ham, and it's better to use fresh. Saying that, though, I don't think there is really a one and only recipe for them. Some would say Hoppin' John, but that isn't written in stone. Just eat a bunch! Also cabbage, or greens, is supposed to be a food to eat for prosperity, as well. We are in Houston, Tx, and I think it is a tradition across the classes and races. The stores are full of bags of fresh black eyed peas, so everyone must be doing it. If you wait too long you will have to use frozen ones, because the fresh ones will be gone!

    You made me curious, so I looked around and found this interesting tidbit:


    5 Replies
    1. re: danhole

      Danhole, your tidbit is the explanation that I grew up with in Houston. I can't imagine a New Year's without black eyed peas. Fresh peas are sold in the stores in Denver at this time of year, but if we happen to be in Patzcuaro for the holidays, they don't even know what I'm talking about. We have to resort to my canned or dried peas that I have "imported".
      We make collard greens, too, if I can find them.

      1. re: danhole

        I was told that the greens signify wealth in the New Year (green = money)

        1. re: torty

          I saw somewhere that the greens represent folded bills, and the peas are coins! But if the peas are to work you HAVE to eat one for every day of the year, so 365 peas. That's a lot of peas!

        2. re: danhole

          Who don' make hopping john with neck bones?

          1. re: danhole

            Here is what was told to me from my mother and was passed down for generations in our family only 6 generations removed from slavery. Before forced the voyage from the Ghoree Islands and west Africa as Africans were aware that they would be be making along journey they would put the black eye peas in the jowls of their mouths to insure that they would have some food for the journey not knowing how long the journey might be they would bring up one or two peas to sustain them for the journey once they arrived to what might be their final destination they were planted by the new slaves and cultivated in such places as Texas Florida and South Carolina

          2. Here in NY, we do not have the tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. However, I did learn of the tradition (though not where/how it started), from friends and family in Dallas. I figure, what the heck, I can use all the good luck I can get, so when I have remembered over the last few years, I have picked up canned black-eyed peas (okay, yell at me now about eating canned veggies, but I was told the fresh ones have to be cooked forever and I am a bit lazy sometimes), but some day, hmm, maybe this year, I may try doing fresh ones if I can find them in NYC. Any recipes will be helpful.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Shayna Madel

              Nothing wrong at all with canned legumes of any sort; the kind of cooking they receive in the canning process is in many ways preferable to how they're normally cooked at home anyway. The typical reason I cook any bean from scratch anymore is that it's locally grown and/or unavailable canned. I have used frozen fresh blackeyes to make Hoppin' John, and they're pretty good, but canned is as good in its way and less of a fuss. As for recipes, there's nothing much involved. If you're cooking from scratch, cook the peas with a smoked hamhock or two, or some bacon, plus a pod or two of dried red pepper. If canned, fry some chopped bacon or chunks of ham and add to the peas when you heat them up, along with a good dash of Tabasco. You can either serve it with cooked white rice, over the rice, or combined with the rice - I've seen all three methods described as THE authentic one, so I suppose it's a regional issue.

              I agree that it is a Southern thing - in the Midwest, the only "typical" New Year's food was ham, and I had to go to Nashville to learn about HJ. That's also where I was introduced to the Alsatian tradition of pork and braised sauerkraut, which I happily embraced, and now we have blackeyes on New Year's Eve and choucroute garni on New Year's Day...or perhaps the next day, if we've overdone the celebrating a bit...

              1. re: Shayna Madel

                There really isn't a recipe I use. I just put them in a pot, cover with water (about an inch over the top), bring to boil and then lower to a simmer. Don't cover them but let them simmer until they are the consistency you like. I'll admit that I like mine a bit mushy, so it takes longer, but some prefer them firmer, so take that into consideration. When I see the pea skins starting to split, then I know they are close to being done. You do want the water to cook down. Sometimes I have to add a bit more water towards the end, but heat it first so you don't slow the process. When they are getting close to what I want, I add some chopped ham. I like to do that towards the end so the ham flavor doesn't totally cook out. If I am using salt pork or a ham hock that goes in at the beginning. If I am out of either of those items, I cut up some raw bacon and toss that in at the beginning. Salt and pepper at the end, not while cooking. Oh, and a bay leaf or two, depending on how much you are making, is a good thing to toss in at the beginning. And after they are done add a good dose of butter! I hope this makes sense!

                1. re: danhole

                  My dad always added a beef boullion (sp) cube to the cooking water also. Otherwise our cooking method is very similar to yours.

                  1. re: danhole

                    danhole these sound good. I love blackeye peas and am making them for New Year's day. It sounds as if you are using dried? Frozen? I like making the dried.

                    1. re: sueatmo

                      I use fresh, but dried would be okay as well.

                2. Actually, I hadn't heard of eating blackeyed peas and greens until I moved to the South. I grew up in the mid-west and my family and our neighbors always had pork and saurkraut for good luck in the New Year.

                  1. When I moved in October 1982 from Boston to Lufkin (pop. 28K) in east Texas (culture shock!), there was a can of Black-eyed peas on my doorstep, along with my local newspaper, the morning of New Years' day. A phone call to a neighbor and it was explained to me that eating black-eyed peas as part of one's first meal of the new year would bring good fortune. 25 years later, I guess it kinda sorta half worked.

                    1. I once ate at a Vietnamese restaurant that offered a special meal for Tet, and it included a porridge with black eyed peas in it. Coincidence?

                      1. Wikipedia offers another explanation of the origin of the custom related to the Civil War, viz. that Union soldiers on Sherman's March to the Sea destroyed crops and storehouses but left corn and black eyed peas alone since they were considered fodder for livestock only.

                        I like black-eyed peas spicy, and with some greens added. I usually make a black-eyed pea soup.

                        This year I encountered rongi at an Indian restaurant, a black-eyed pea curry, that was about the best thing I had there. I'm thinking about trying that this year.

                        While looking for a recipe BTW I came across this site which looks like a good reference: http://www.beanslentils.com/recipe.htm

                        1. Gracias a todos .Buscaba casualmente recetas de frijoles ojo negro y encontré este blog , linda tradición sureña que quiero iniciar en mi país .Very interesting notes about : frijoles ojo negro , Thanks for your recipes and tales .Rafael ,from Costa RIca

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: papibre

                            Rafael from Costa Rica, the land that taught me to serve a poached egg on top of my black bean soup, feliz ano nuevo!

                          2. Well, they are a replacement for cowpeas, IIRC. Both are African peas. But fanciers of cowpeas do not admit of replacements....

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Karl S

                              Are you saying that black eyed peas are a replacement for cowpeas? It has been my understanding that cowpeas encompasses a variety of peas/legumes. Here is an interesting article about the "cowpeas."


                              1. re: danhole

                                Thanks for that article. As a half-native Texan, I always enjoy insights into the past and present.:)

                            2. I don't know how or why my family came to practice the black eyed pea tradition for New Years but I'm from southern California and we were forced to eat black eyed peas every year on New Years Day. I was never very fond of black eyed peas actually, I was a very picky eater as a child, but my dad was firm that we ALL had to eat at LEAST one black eyed pea to insure good luck in the New Year. He is originally from Canada and has moved around a bit in California but has never lived in the south. My family heritage branches from England and Ireland. Perhaps there is a black eyed peas tradition elsewhere in the world. If it can branch to Vietnam, why not England or Ireland?

                              1. I heard somewhere that big slave auctions were held on New Year's Day. So enslaved people would often party on New Year's Eve to stave off their fear as they faced the unknown and separation from family and friends. Black eye peas were poor people food and usually part of the feast, and came to be associated with good luck, which they desperately needed.

                                1. anyone know who might be serving black eyed peas on New Year Day?

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: SirJohnSoane

                                    yeahsuh, I ahm, with ah dime, jus com on down t'tennessee.

                                  2. Black eyed peas are an easy and fast legume to prepare- and are a traditional southern food on New Years. In honor of my mothers family, who settled in Florida, we cook up the following every New Years Day. White trash cooking at its best!

                                    In a pressure cooker:

                                    2 1/2 cups dried black-eyed peas
                                    1 large can whole tomatoes ( include tomato juice)
                                    1 ham bone or ham hock ( and any leftover ham from Christmas Day)
                                    2 large sweet potatoes or yams, chopped into large chucks
                                    1 large green pepper, chopped
                                    1-2 onions, chopped
                                    1 cup chopped celery
                                    1 bunch of kale, or mustard greens, shredded
                                    1-2 tbs Chopped hot peppers ( your choice)
                                    1 tsp crushed red pepper
                                    2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
                                    Add enough chicken broth to just cover pot ingredients.

                                    Get the pressure cooker rocking, and cook for about 30-35 minutes. Let the pot cool, and remove the lid. Season with salt, pepper, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and add Tabasco to taste. Serves up great with a dollop of sour cream.

                                    Note: If you do not have a pressure cooker, you can also cook in a regular pot but it will take about 1 1/2 hours. You could shorten the time by using frozen fresh or pre-cooked peas.

                                    Happy New Year, Ya'all.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: haironfire

                                      Sounds really good, even to a girl from Queens, by way of Long Island. I tried to find fresh black-eyed peas "up here," to no avail. Is there a substantial difference in taste or texture from fres-frozen, canned and dried black-eyed peas? I know I can get canned or dried, not sure about frozen.

                                      1. re: Shayna Madel

                                        Of the three, I'd go with frozen if you can get them, canned (reluctantly) if you can't. I don't like the way the dried ones cook up.

                                        1. re: zorra

                                          I did the canned thing and they seemed okay, and have a few hot leads on the frozen--the experiments continue...

                                          1. re: Shayna Madel

                                            I agree that frozen is the best bet. then dried and last of all the canned. I use the dried sometimes, if I have a ham bone, but they come out more like a soup than the frozen or fresh.

                                            I made mine yesterday and they were so good that I'm going to have some for breakfast today! I used the fresh peas, sliced up a handful of really good salt pork, put in a couple bay leaves, and let it get to a boil and then simmer until tender. Took about 1 1/2 - 2 hours because I kept it at a low simmer, but they came out with an almost sweet taste. Don't know if it was the brand of peas I got or not. Usually I go to Krogers but this time I went to a different store, so it was a different brand. But it may have been the salt pork, because I got the Blue RIbbon brand instead of the cheaper stuff. It just looked so good and meaty, instead of mostly fat. I just wish I had thought about getting some green onions to add to them! Maybe I could use some dried chives, instead. Hmmmm.

                                    2. We had just a few bites last night at 12:01 and will have a full meal of them (with ham and my
                                      SIL's awesome cornbread) in a little while. It wouldn't be New Year's without them.

                                      Somebody from "up north" told me they eat lentils on New Year's Day. Ordinarily I'd rather have the lentils, but black-eyed peas on New Year's are mandatory!

                                      (I'm a native Mississippian married to a Texan--currently in suburban Houston)

                                      1. I don't know where I heard this, probably from my mom, who grew up in western PA, but does anyone else know the phrase "Eat poor on New Year's and eat rich the rest of the year"? Black-eyed peas and collards being "poor," of course. I've been making hoppin' john and collards on January 1 for years, and most of the time I do tend to eat rich the rest of the year . . .

                                        I'm interested to know how other people make hoppin' john. I do it differently every year; it always comes out extremely tasty (I use onion, bacon, and hot red pepper flakes or black pepper, and lots of salt, and sometimes a bay leaf in with the beans—that's it), but none too attractive. Here's last year's version, with a picture: http://pieandbeer.blogspot.com/2007/0... This year I cooked the rice separately, and it turned out pretty much the same. Reading the posts above, I see I should try frozen or fresh peas, which might keep their shape better than dried?

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Liana Krissoff

                                          If you can get fresh, do it! And frozen is good too. Your dish looks very good! I don't make Hoppin john, because I am the only one in this house that will eat black eyed peas, but it looks really good.

                                        2. I grew up with the story that eating black eyed peas on New Year's will keep change in your pocket all year long, and eating greens will keep 'folding' money in your pocket.