Monday, January 1, 2007

Bringin' in the New Year, Southern Style

**Reprint from last New Year's Day! Thank you Sydney, for the article a second time around!**

Written by SydneyB
A Blog from the South

Being southern can mean many things, but the one image that comes immediately to my mind is that of hospitality which - at its core – means “large quantities of food served with tall glasses of sweet tea”! I don’t know this for certain, and suspect others would disagree, but I truly believe that southerners coined the phrase “comfort food”.

Every occasion, from weddings to funerals, would be incomplete without an abundance of food lovingly prepared by a multitude of southern cooks, and especially ringing in the New Year is no exception. Most southern ladies begin preparing for New Year’s Day - and I don’t mean the usual football treats like chips, pretzels, cheese and dip either as soon as the Christmas is over.

In my house (family) it has always been and I know will always be our New Year’s Day tradition to eat as many "black-eyed peas" and turnip greens as possible, along with hot cornbread and pork chops. You see the more peas you eat, the more money you come into durig the new year. You would have to live in the south to understand just how important that is, and how easy it is for our grocery shelves to be emptied of bags of dried black-eyed peas between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Any southern cook will tell you that not having black-eyed peas New Year’s Day is a disaster of gigantic proportions.

Growing up, I cannot remember a New Year’s Day that my mother did not fix black-eyed peas, turnip greens, pork chops and corn bread. I am quite confident that there was not one. Not wishing to bring ill-fortune, on my family, I have most certainly carried on the tradition including not doing ANY laundry on New Year's Day or you would "wash someone out of the family". Don't even think about it!

There is no secret to cooking black-eyed peas, I simply follow the directions on the bag – removing any debris and rinsing the peas until the water is clean. The peas are soaked over night in salt water, and that water is discarded the next day. The soaked peas are covered with fresh water and then simmered in a large pot on the stove with slabs of hog jowl, onion, garlic, salt and pepper until they are just right. We just eat ours in a bowl - like a thick soup or stew. My husband likes to eat his peas spooned over his cornbread.

Greens are a staple in southern gardens and kitchen pantries. Greens boil down to practically nothing, it takes "a mess" (Southernese for “a lot”) of them to cook enough for everyone. I usually cook them with only the water that clings to the leaves after washing them, and it takes just a few minutes for them to be tender and ready to serve. I’m not as fond of greens as my husband is, but my grandmother added just a pinch of sugar to her greens while they were cooking to remove the bitterness. My husband loves to eat his greens sprinkled with a few drops of hot pepper sauce. I like a little vinegar on mine with salt.

The scent of cornbread baking in the oven brings a delightful balance to the pungent, and sometimes less appealing, aroma of simmering black-eyed peas and turnip greens. Cornbread is baked in a well-seasoned, large cast-iron skillet, using my mom's recipe. Hot cornbread right from the oven is sliced like pie and served with large slabs of butter. My mouth is watering already! My husband makes better cornbread than I do. I don't know why that is.

There is nothing about the food we eat in the South on New Year’s Day that is compatible with my normal eating habits, but I think I’d rather give up my Harley than to break with this time-honored tradition!

What about you? Does your family have a New Year's tradition?