Southerners do love the Lord, but we also have a strong superstitious streak. The Southern New Year’s Meal is fairly steeped in traditional superstition, so whether you like it or not- you will be expected to take just a bite or two of Greens, Blackeyed Peas, Roast Pork, Sweet Potatoes and Cornbread! If you don’t? Well, your happy and prosperous New Year has been put in serious jeopardy. Southern mommas are so serious about this- they are willing to doll up their Blackeyed Peas and call it Southern Caviar, of all things. My grandmother wasn’t so accommodating…she said, ‘Learn to like ’em’, which really meant-don’t mess with tradition. Truth be told, up and down most Southern neighborhoods, on New Year’s Day you could smell what everybody was cooking, Southern Soul. We eat Pork- any kind really, Ham, Pork Chops, Hamhocks, Roast Fresh Pork, Salt Pork or Barbeque on New Year’s Day- why?
- Because Pigs root Forward for food-
- Cows Stand Still- and chew the cud over and over again- so don’t eat Beef, unless that’s how you want the new year to go..
- Chickens, well they’re flighty and flap around the coop-but the main thing is they Scratch Backwards for food…
- Moving Forward, I hate to put it this way-to move Forward like Hogs do- is the way to go in the New Year.
We won’t mention the high fat content of pork while you’re making your New Year’s Resolutions- though fat was considered a good sign, especially to farm and field hands, who preferred fat years as opposed to lean. In fact a Southern New Year’s Meal is actually a pore man’s meal. After the Wah B’tween the States, we were all pore. The New Year’s Meal was scraped together from what the Union Army left behind after Sherman tore through here, leaving basically feed for livestock; corn, dried out peas, potatoes and turnips left undug. When those Carpetbaggers, Scalawags and Yankees came down here to straighten us out – they had to eat pore man’s food too! I guess they learned to like it. Remember, the New Year’s Meal is the Food of the Southern Soul. Now, don’t go thinking we’re unhappy about it- we like it
We even spice things up a bit, we always have Hot Pepper Sauce for the Blackeyed Peas and Greens, the Mashed Sweet Potatoes are topped with Pecans, Cinnamon and Sugar swimming in Butter or maybe the Sweet Potatoes will be made into Sticky Candied Yams. This year, I’ve made up a Sweet, Spicy and Hot Pickle Relish for my Turnip Greens or to drizzle over buttered Cornbread. And, I’m having a Turnip Green Casserole made famous by our colorful and infamous Governor Big Jim Folsom. He made a campaign stop out in the middle of nowhere late one night and was served a mess of drained Turnip Greens topped with Fried Onion Rings, then kept warm in the oven. When Big Jim asked what the name of the dish was- they didn’t know…so he dubbed it ‘Ain’t Mad at Nobody Turnip Greens’. The Pot Likker drained from the Greens was saved for Medicinal Purposes, is said to be restorative to the sick. (You might need it!) The only change I’m going to make is to cook some diced turnips in with my Turnip Greens. I also plan to liven up my Roast Pork Backbone with cracked black pepper, a generous amount of salt; then surrounded with whole onions and garlic, while it roasts. Don’t you just love the idea of having a spicy Southern Pork Backbone for New Year’s? My Grandmother did. The superstitious prosperity traditions surrounding the New Year Meal are specific-
- Dark Leafy Greens represent green folding money,
- Ground Yellow Cornbread represents gold bullion,
- Sweet Potatoes represent copper pennies.
- It is traditional to eat 365 Blackeyed Peas for a prosperous New Year, however many you eat- that’s how many lucky days you’ll have. Blackeyed peas are a type of field pea when left on the vine after harvest will dry, then are hulled and stored up to re-hydrate and eat during winter or kept for starter seed in the Spring.You never know when you might need some ‘seed’ money..
- Pork is Preserved or Saved, too. The New Year’s Pork and Blackeyed Peas represent the wisdom of Saving- you didn’t think Piggy Banks were a figment of the imagination did you?
So, there you have it, the Southern New Year’s Meal. If you have room for dessert, you’ve missed the whole point- this meal is so well rounded, so complete you really don’t need another rich thing. After all you indulged in during Thanksgiving and Christmas, uh ah-well let’s just say it wouldn’t hurt you pass up dessert. There’s always that fruitcake no one ate or a slice of sweet potato or pecan pie so good it will lull you over to the couch for a nap. Now, I know you’re pining away for that recipe for the Sweet, Hot and Spicy Relish- it’s easy as pie:
Camellia’s Spicy Winter Relish
- One 12 oz jar of Sweet Pickle Relish- drained.
- One small can of sliced Mexican Jalapeno Peppers with liquid
- 2- 2½ cups of pure cane sugar
Put all of the ingredients in a stainless steel pan, bring to a low boil, reduce the heat and cook until liquid is almost all absorbed- it will be sticky and glistening, candied might be a better word. Makes 2 cups of the best stuff you ever ate any time of the year!
And for heaven’s sake, get those Christmas decorations down, it’s bad luck! I would love to hear what you’re eating New Year’s Day and whether you’re superstitious about it or not. Whatever you’re having, I hope you are blessed with a Happy and Prosperous New Year!
Love y’all, Camellia
*Photographs are all mine, obviously. *It is worth noting that according to nutritionists, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes and dried legumes all have very high nutritional qualities- no excuses! Eat that good Southern Soul Food!