HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Black-eyed pea "tradition" is an invented hoax

The "tradition" of eating black-eyed peas for luck on New Year's Day was INVENTED (yes, invented) by ELMORE TORN in 1947 (yes, 1947) in Texas.

Millions of Americans have been duped by this great con artist..

Here's the true story: http://www.texasescapes.com/CFEckhard...

Torn was an enterprising guy, stuck with canned peas and found a way to get rid of them and have a good laugh besides.

However, everyone loves the "tradition" anyway, and I must admit, I'll be eating them today also.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Not true. The "good luck" traditions of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day are recorded in the Babylonian Talmud (compiled ~500 CE), Horayot 12A: "Abaye [d. 339 CE] said, now that you have established that good-luck symbols avail, you should make it a habit to see Qara (bottle gourd), Rubiya (black-eyed peas, Arabic Lubiya), Kartei (leeks), Silka (either beets or spinach), and Tamrei (dates) on your table on the New Year." A parallel text in Kritot 5B states that one should eat these symbols of good luck. The accepted custom (Shulhan Aruh Orah Hayim 583:1, 16th century, the standard code of Jewish law and practice) is to eat the symbols. This custom is followed by Sepharadi and Israeli Jews to this day. The first Sepharadi Jews arrived in Georgia in the 1730s and have lived there continuously since. The Jewish practice was apparently adopted by non-Jews around the time of the Civil War.

    3 Replies
    1. re: pippinsrosy

      Silka (either beets or spinach) - probably swiss chard, the red variety. We still call it Siliq today.

      1. re: pippinsrosy

        Black Eye Peas! And all these years I been eatin pickled herring for good luck!!!

        Or NYE tradition was good Jewish Deli corned beef, kosher pickles, belly lox and herring!!!

        1. re: Hue

          LOL, Hue... you are lucky you had so many good years with your New Year's Foods... I didn't so much as see a Jewish Deli until I was out of University! Or taste a Kosher pickle until ten years ago!

      2. I don't care where the tradition comes from. I have eaten black eyed peas and corn bread on New Years Day every tear I can remember. Therefore it is a tradition in my household.

        1. Um, why didn't you just announce that there is no Santa Claus :-)?

          I happen to have grown up in Texas where everyone knows that you are doomed in the New Year without your blackeyed peas! I see you aren't taking your chances either ;-) so we are cool.

          p.s. did you have your cornbread for lasting wealth in the new year (gold) or your greens (I made collards) for cash in the New Year??? If you are in America you still have another 20 or so hours...

          1. All traditions are invented, if you go back far enough.

            2 Replies
            1. re: jlafler

              People invent traditions because they have hope... they believe and want future generations to carry on these things.

              My Great Grandmother was born in 1901 and told me (before she recently passed) that EVERY New Year's in her life included blackeyed peas... for luck in the new year. One pea for every day of good luck in the New Year. Unless she didn't start getting lucky until '47 (and she had two teen daughters by then, so I'd say she got a bit lucky) then I'm sticking with her rendition. And I have at least two hundred blackeyed peas as leftovers to eat tomorrow. :-) Happy New Year, everyone!

              1. Well, this past year sucked in a big way chez moi. And we ate black eyed peas last New Year's Day. Given that, we'll be skipping them this year...

                I need to find a new "lucky" food to eat today!

                7 Replies
                  1. re: roxlet

                    Great idea, roxlet... more lentils/ days of good luck, per spoonful! Maybe I'll cook up some lentil soup today. It's freezing (actually below freezing) in NY today this cold just won't give way yet. Taking some more vitamin C and going back to bed for an hour now... Happy New Year!

                    1. re: ideabaker

                      No way. If I'm looking for a new lucky food, I'm starting with steak, lobster, crab or something like that. It'll be a long time before I get to lentils or their like.


                    2. re: roxlet

                      Hah! I'm covering all bases today:
                      Mexican Pot Beans (pinto) and Italian lentils and sausages.

                    3. re: coney with everything

                      A sweet old Welsh lady who ran a B&B where i stayed once recommended mince tarts. She said that every one you ate at the holidays meant a month without tears in the new year. Since the tarts she made were heavenly, I think I guaranteed myself most of a tear-free year in that one sitting!

                      1. re: MsMaryMc

                        That is lovely, MsMaryMc... heave never heard of that tradition. Maybe as an expert tart maker she created it herself! Hopefully you got the recipe to continue the tradition!

                      2. re: coney with everything

                        My husband is so against superstition that if I were to serve him anything he was supposed to eat (for any reason), he'd reject it. Likewise, I made mince this year to serve on Christmas because it was banned during holy feasts due to it's decadence.

                        If you don't believe in it, does it cease to matter?

                      3. all traditions were created by someone, somewhere?

                        what;s the cutoff date for legitmacy, as apparently 1947 is too late. would 1897 be ok? 1847? 1547?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: thew

                          LOL...guess we all could've started a 'tradition' yesterday...

                          1. re: thew

                            Kwanzaa was invented in the 60s, I think. A new tradition, but a tradition none the less.

                          2. Well, eating legumes on New Year's Day is a tradition that goes way back in many cultures before 1947.

                            I do understand that cowpeas (like black-eyed peas, an African pea not an American bean) were more commonly used before black-eyed peas became dominant.

                            So I think this supposed myth-busting is rather inadequate.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Karl S

                              Black-eyed peas = black-eyed beans = cowpeas = Vigna senensis. It is not a bean. Beans are Phaseolus spp.

                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                I believe the term cowpea once referred (and may in refer still in some places) to another African pea, related but distinct from the black-eyed pea.

                                1. re: Karl S

                                  Sorry, we're both wrong. Cowpea = Vigna unguiculata; which includes four sub-species, one of which is Vigna unguiculata unguiculata = black eyed pea. So black eyed peas = black eyed beans = cowpeas = Vigna unguiculata.

                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    Actually, that explains what I was getting at. Cowpea has been used to describe different sub-species, one of which is black-eyed peas.

                            2. I'm not especially convinced either... I've spent my whole life listening to my grandmother's reminders to eat my black eyed peas, collards, cornbread, and hog jowls (now replaced by a chunk of ham cooked with the peas) on NYE. She remembers eating this meal for good luck as a child, long before 1947. The South is a pretty big region, very few food traditions are the same from state to state (or even county to county). Black eyed peas may not have been a tradition in Texas before the '40s, but they were in at least some parts of the South long before.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: mpjmph

                                Mpjmph, my Great Grandma (and I) was born in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) in 1901. She gave me the same reminders each year, and never spoke of a New Year without the blackeyed peas, collard (or turnip) greens, cornbread and hamhocks for luck in the New Year. I'm finishing my third bowl today. If last year was tough, it was clearly because I didn't eat enough of the peas last New Year's Day!

                                1. re: ideabaker

                                  My Great- Grandmothers came from Georgia and Tennessee in the 1700s, and passed the tradition down to my grandmothers in Texas- so that 1947 date can't be right. And we've always included onions (leeks), so I'm inclined to believe the Jewish link, myself. Possibly it was popularized around Civil War times because there wasn't much else to eat, but it was definitely around before then!

                                  (and 2008 was horrible- but I'm on the Navajo rez, and they had no BEPs at all for sale here, so I got no luck for the year. =/ )

                                  1. re: pippinsrosy

                                    You're right about the Civil War connection, I believe. I'd heard this story before, but here's Wikipedia's version:

                                    "These "good luck" traditions supposedly date back to the American Civil War. Union troops, especially in areas targeted by General William Tecumseh Sherman, typically stripped the countryside of all stored food, crops, and livestock, and destroy whatever they couldn't carry away. At that time, Northerners considered "field peas" and corn suitable only for animal fodder, and didn't steal or destroy these humble foods."

                                    Wikipedia also reports the good luck association with black-eyed peas at the start of the year as dating to Babylonia.

                                    1. re: pippinsrosy

                                      Ha, Pippinsrosy! After reflecting for some time (a few days) that the 1947 date seems way too recent, based on my own family experience. Your 2008 story about the Navajo Reservation with no BEP's make me feel a lot better about all the beans I ate this year (not enough, but plenty.. is New Year's supposed to be a pea eating contest? And if every day were lucky... how would we know a good day from an ok, or not so ok, day? :-) )

                                      Don't worry about your luck going forward, because we've learned from other CH's posts that any pea/bean/legume could work for NY luck! I especially like the lentils idea posted by many here. It's a lot easier to go for 365 lentils at the beginning of the year than something bigger!

                                      Thanks so much for your post!

                                      BTW my mother swears by eating a half cup of any legume or bean/pea (before I get flared, I know there are differences, though slight) every day. People who never eat them are often afraid of getting "gas"... that's why they should be introduced slowly (a few peas/beans/legumes [whatever you want to call them] on a salad for a month or two, then work your way up). Supposedly the fibre, the natural vitamins and minerals in them is extremely beneficial to health.

                                2. I was under the impression that you eat like a peasant on New Years day so that you can eat like a king the rest of the year. BEP being peasant food.


                                  1. Sorry, but Mr. Eckhardt's "Great Blackeyed pea hoax" story is itself a hoax. Without even looking at the historical record, the fact that he cites no authority for his story is a good tip that it's a fabrication. The fact that he refers to Mr. Torn as a "feller" should also give rise to some suspicion about whether he's spinning a tall tale.

                                    Eating field peas on the new year dates back at least to the Civil War. And pippinsrosy's post indicates that it goes back a lot further than that.

                                    One more example of why you shouldn't believe everything you read.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                      But it was on the internet!!!!


                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                        While we're at it, does anybody know the OP?

                                      2. We were invited to a NYE celebration last night at the home of a grand old southern lady originally from North Carolina. We brought over a covered dish of Hoppin' John--she had never heard of it. We told her it was a traditional dish eaten by Jews from Long Island.

                                        7 Replies
                                          1. re: whs

                                            Maybe she hadn't heard of hoppin' john but surely she knew that one eats black eyed peas for luck on New Year's Day.

                                            1. re: whs

                                              Black eyed peas are common food year round in NC (at least in all the parts I've lived in, which is pretty much every where east of Raleigh), and a tradition on New Years. Hoppin' John, on the other hand, is not a commonly used term in the region. We always just called it black eyed peas and rice.

                                              1. re: mpjmph

                                                Possibly it's a cultural thing--Hoppin' John started out as an African-American or Afro-Caribbean dish, dating back to slave times. It only later caught on with white folks, and maybe the name took longer to follow.

                                                1. re: MsMaryMc

                                                  I was an adult before I heard the term Hoppin' John; it was BEP and rice to us. We're late with New Year's this year so the "peas" are simmering away with a nice ham hock. We'll have them tonight with collards and rack of pork. Can't wait :) We were in NYC last New Year's and I looked high and low for BEP (dried OR canned). Didn't find them til I went into the little grocery around the corner from our apt. YAY.

                                                  1. re: MsMaryMc

                                                    I know lots of people of European and of African descent who grew up in NC (mostly in rural areas). Almost all of them eat black eyed peas, especially on New Years Day. None of them call it hoppin' john, that I know of. The rice component of the dish just isn't a strong part of the tradition.

                                                    There were some early rice plantations in NC, but rice was never grown at the same rate here as it was in South Carolina and Georgia. We don't use nearly as much rice in our traditional foods as is used in other parts of the south. Black eyed peas are a long time staple of the diet, but rice was sporadic in production and availability (especially for slaves and/or the very poor). I don't have any references, so I can't say definitely that this difference in agricultural practice explains why the term "hoppin' john" doesn't seem to be widely used in my experience, but it makes sense to me.

                                                    I guess the major point here is that there are a lot of similarities in food traditions and terminology throughout the South, but it's still a very large region with a lot of variation. Even within a food sub-culture (such as Afro American and Caribbean) there are differences from area to area.

                                                2. re: whs

                                                  John Thorne has a wonderful discussion and master recipe for Hoppin John in one of his books--Outlaw Cook, I think. When I was about 18 (we're going back to the early sixties), my dad tried to recreate from memory his experience of Hoppin John when he was a kid in northern Kentucky. So that takes us back to twenties at least. Only the name he remembered was Jumpin Johnny, and he made it with barley instead of rice. I was never able to find out if the recipe had morphed or simply his memory had played tricks on him. One way or another, a variation on Hoppin John was born.

                                                3. So not a hoax!! My great-granny Edna Marie(born in 1899) also ate this lucky meal as a child, along with many other family members who are old as the hills. But glad that you still followed tradtion-Happy New Year!

                                                  1. Whatever you eat on this New Year Day, eat no fowl - the bird scratches away wealth in the coming year. The belief arises from either Hungary, Saskatchewan or Southern Ontario.

                                                    1. My gastroenterolgist certainly approves. Eat more fiber, keep the process moving, especially fifty and over. Go black-eyes.!!!

                                                      1. I have no opinion on the hoax or not hoax issue (though eating black eyed peas was certainly already a well-established tradition in Texas when I was growing up there in the mid-fifties)....Nonetheless, I smiled when I read this: the chef at one my favorite restaurants (La Ciccia in SF; the place is Sardinian) has been experimenting with black eyed peas recently, and I've tried two different delicious black eyed peas dishes there in the last few months. After sampling one of the dishes, between bites, we told the Chef about the New Year's tradition: he had never heard of it growing up in Sardinia, but said we were not the first customers to mention it to him.

                                                        Anyway, we strongly encouraged him to put the black eyed peas on the New Year's menu. (best version of black eyed peas I ever had!)

                                                        I didn't make it there for the holiday so don't know whether or not he did do so in the end, but I like to think we may have encouraged an expansion of this tradition to Sardinian cuisine. :-)

                                                        8 Replies
                                                        1. re: susancinsf

                                                          The Italian equivalent is lentils.

                                                          1. re: susancinsf

                                                            Fresh black-eyed peas are the best! I shelled many a bushel, as a kid, at my grandparents' house, outside of Austin, Texas.
                                                            There is no comparison to dry or canned, so try to find them fresh. I thought that the smaller pea was called a crowder but Wickipedia says otherwise. All I know is there was a smaller, lighter colored pea that seemed to have better flavor. Does anyone know what I am talking about?

                                                            1. re: Scargod

                                                              Could those peas be pinto beans, Scar? They're my new favorite thing!

                                                              1. re: Scargod

                                                                There are many varieties of cowpea / black eyed peas - at least outside of the US. I thought crowders are cowpeas.

                                                                1. re: Scargod

                                                                  I think this is right - if not, no doubt somebody will correct me.

                                                                  Cowpeas = field peas = southern peas = Vigna unguiculata. It's a species of legume that has many subspecies of varying appearance.

                                                                  Black-eyed peas are one such subspecies, as are lady peas, cream peas, Big Boys, Dixie Lees, and many others. (My stepfather, a native Alabamian and field pea aficionado, prefers Opp peas, which he insists are different than and superior to the closely-related pink-eyed purple-hulled peas, and which only grow around Opp, AL).

                                                                  Crowder peas are a subcategory of field peas. They grow tightly crowded in their pods, and end up almost square-shaped from squeezing against their neighbors. They are a number of varieties of crowder peas as well; here's an heirloom seed catalog page that includes blue goose, brown sugar, calico, sumptuous, and whippoorwill crowder peas: http://www.newhopeseed.com/vegetable/...

                                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                    U da man! I was looking for "cream peas" when I read your post. I suspect my grandparents were growing someting like Sumptuous (Wood's Sumptuous)
                                                                    "creamy" peas. Man were those good!
                                                                    Some peas are "mealy", while others are not.
                                                                    BTW, I have grown, and love, fresh pintos. Again, not much relation to using dried beans.

                                                                  2. re: Scargod

                                                                    I think we called them field peas. Crowders - or "purple-hulled crowders" were always a favorite of mine. But where do you find fresh BEP in January???

                                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                                      Not quite sure where they come from or how they do it, but Stop n Shop in the New Haven area has had them. Shelled, no less.