Jan 6, 2012

Black-Eyed Peas, who knew!?

I grew up "Yankee" as they say here in the South.  That means I grew up eating pork, sauerkraut, and hot dogs for New Year's.  But, in the South, they have a tradition of eating Black-Eyed Peas for luck.  My Aunt sent out a neat story about the tradition, and I started checking it out to get more info.  Well, that opened up a whole can of, er, well, peas I guess.  Here are several takes on the tradition of eating BEP:

From my Aunt:

"The Real Story is much more interesting and has gone untold in fear that feelings would be hurt. It’s a story of war, the most brutal and bloody war, military might and power pushed upon civilians, women, children and elderly. Never seen as a war crime, this was the policy of the greatest nation on earth trying to maintain that status at all costs. An unhealed wound remains in the hearts of some people of the southern states even today; on the other hand, the policy of slavery has been an open wound that has also been slow to heal but is okay to talk about. The story of THE BLACK EYED PEA being considered good luck relates directly back to Sherman 's Bloody March to the Sea in late 1864. It was called The Savannah Campaign and was lead by Major General William T. Sherman. The Civil War campaign began on 11/15/64 when Sherman 's troops marched from the captured city of Atlanta , Georgia , and ended at the port of Savannah on 12/22/1864. When the smoke cleared, the southerners who had survived the onslaught came out of hiding. They found that the blue belly aggressors that had looted and stolen everything of value and everything you could eat including all livestock - death and destruction were everywhere. While in hiding, few had enough to eat, and starvation was now upon the survivors. There was no international aid, no Red Cross meal trucks. The Northern army had taken everything they could carry and eaten everything they could eat. But they couldn’t take it all. The devastated people of the south found for some unknown reason that Sherman ’s bloodthirsty troops had left silos full of black eyed peas. At the time in the north, the lowly black eyed pea was only used to feed stock. The northern troops saw it as the thing of least value. Taking grain for their horses and livestock and other crops to feed themselves, they just couldn’t take everything. So they left the black eyed peas in great quantities assuming it would be of no use to the survivors, since all the livestock it could feed had either been taken or eaten. Southerners awoke to face a new year in this devastation and were facing massive starvation if not for the good luck of having the black eyed peas to eat. From New Years Day 1866 forward, the tradition grew to eat black eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck." (Source: email, unknown origin)
According to TexasScapes.com, the tradition was invented by Elmore Torn, Sr (who happens to be the dad of Rip Torn).  It is rather lengthy, so I'll just provide a link.  In essence though, he invented the story as a way to sell a product no one wanted.(http://www.texasescapes.com/CFEckhardt/The-Great-Blackeyed-Pea-Hoax.htm)

Still, someone else wrote the following on a discussion board about the subject:
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. (Posted by pippinsrosy on http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/584205)
Still, another person responded with the best reason anyone does anything because of "tradition:"

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! (Posted by Ideabaker on http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/584205)
  Well, whatever reason you have for doing it, I still think Black-Eyed Peas are nasty.  However, I did eat two over-sized spoonfuls. Just in case.  I also had my dawgs and kraut!

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