It is a long standing tradition in the south to eat black eyed peas on New Year’s day. The specifics may vary from place to place in the south, but in the Ozarks, the peas are eaten with hog jowls and most commonly accompanied by collard greens and cornbread (not rice- that would make it “Hopin John”- which, although southern, is not an Ozarks thing.)
The reason most commonly given for why we eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s day is because the peas resemble coins, and so we are symbolically drawing in money when we eat them. Same with the greens- they are like the green of paper money. Before the association with paper money, greens may have been eaten to symbolize fertility and growth. Pigs are associated with prosperity and plenty for a number of reasons. Eating peas and other legumes on New Year’s day is an old and very wide spread custom. I think it may have been originally tied in with the worship of Carna- as Philippe Walter talks about in “Christianity: The Origins of a Pagan Religion”.
Other Ozarks traditions for the New Year include “first footing”- the belief that the first person to visit the home in the new year is key to the luck of the household- a dark-haired man being the most auspicious. Also- whatever you are doing on New Year’s day is what you will be doing all year long. It’s bad luck to wash on that day- surely you would wash someone out of your family. Whatever you do, good luck and Happy New Year!!
I know a lot of people who don’t like black eyed peas, but who like them prepared in the following recipe:
2 (15-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, drained
½ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup cider vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
½ red onion, chopped
½ bell pepper, chopped
Place oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a canning jar, twist on a lid and shake. Place peas in a large bowl. Stir in garlic, onion and bell pepper. Pour over the vinegar mixture and stir. Cover and refrigerate for a day or so before serving. Serve chilled with saltine crackers, or use as a vegetable side dish.