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Black-Eyed Peas

Makes this New Year’s tradition to have good luck in the new year!

After the last two years, I think we all could use a little luck, so I thought I’d share this recipe with you and a little history behind it.

When I was looking for a history of black-eyed peas, Adrian Miller’s book Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine One Plate at a Time and it came to my rescue. He has a whole chapter on black-eyed peas in fact!

Miller writes about a few ways black-eyed peas and luck became intertwined, but I found this lesser-known version very cool because it ties directly to Miller’s family traditions. According to a 1905 Boston Herald story, there is a German custom to have “lentils, pork, white cabbage and potato dumplings so the new year would bring you good luck and an abundance of money. Lentils mean gold; dumplings, the big round silver dollars, the white cabbage, greenbacks.” Pork symbolizes progress since a pig digs for its food. Miller was shocked after reading the article because the German meal was like the one his family ate for New Year’s: black-eyed peas instead of lentils; chitlins instead of pork; greens in place of cabbage and candied yams instead of dumplings. There were German immigrants who were enslavers and their enslaved cooks likely made them the meal above and “borrowed the folklore, gave it an African American spin by substituting in their own food.”

While I was doing some more research, I came across an article from Ebony entitled, “[Hungry for History] Hoppin’ John aka Black Eyed Peas for a Happy New Year” and they mentioned Ebony’s first Food and Fashion editor, Freda DeKnight, included a recipe for black-eyed peas in her 1948 cookbook, A Date with a Dish. So of course, I had to find her recipe. I discovered an online copy of her cookbook, and she reiterated that if you want good luck in the new year, make this dish. I combined her recipe with the one included in Soul Food and ingredients I could find locally.

Let’s get cooking!

Black-Eyed Peas

  • 1 lb. dried black-eyed peas

  • 1 ½ lbs smoked meat (I used ½ lb smoked bacon and 1 lb smoked pork loin)

  • 1 medium onion

  • 1 garlic clove

  • Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

  • Salt, to taste

Rinse the peas and discard any small stones you find. Place the peas in a large bowl and cover with water and let sit overnight. Add smoked meat to a large pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and then let simmer until the stock has flavor. Add the peas, onion and red pepper flakes to the stock. Taste and add salt if needed. Let simmer for 2 hours to let the peas get tender and soak up the flavor of the stock. Serve warm.

Step-by-Step Photo Guide

Rinse and soak peas overnight.

Add smoked meat and water to a pot. Bring to a boil and let simmer until stock has flavor.

Add peas, onion and red pepper flakes to the stock. Add salt if needed. Let simmer for two hours until the peas are tender.

Serve warm. Enjoy and have a happy and lucky New Year!

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