Round these parts, it is the custom to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. It is supposed to bring you good luck. Not that I believe in such foolishness—it’s a fun cultural tradition, and I happen to like the legumes, so it’s a good excuse to have plenty fixed up. Some folks say you just gotta have a serving, and others say you need to have one pea for each lucky day you want to have. I’d always been taught it was a Texas thing. T’ain’t.
According to our friends over at the ever knowledgeable Wikipedia, it is a tradition of the entire South (that’s with a capital “S,” mind you). It apparently gained wide popularity in the Civil War (aka “the War of Northern Aggression” to the most devout of the pea eaters), but it is even older than that. Turns out a group of Jewish immigrants brought it with them to the new world of Georgia around 1730.
Where did they bring it from? Well, chilluns, the oldest recorded instance of black-eyed peas bringing luck is recorded in the Babylonian Talmud of all places dating from 500 AD (aka “500 CE” for you politically correct types). According to the Talmud, black-eyed peas were one of a number of foods Jews were to be sure to eat at Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year, for luck. Now, what surprises me as much as the age and scope of the tradition is that it is recorded as official Jewish tradition. Seems to go against trusting in God to eat something for luck, but people of faith all over hold to silly superstitions, so I guess it shouldn’t surprise me, but it does.
Here’s the irony. The Jews preserved a kosher tradition for 1200 years, then they get to the South (capital S), and the first thing their neighbors do, is to ahead and add pork to it for flavor (along with onions and some type of pepper sauce), like they do to everything but their pecan pie. (and don’t ask how to pronounce the name of that nut—it’ll cause another civil war!)
The remaining question is why did the Jews ever think eating black-eyed peas in particular would bring luck?
So, sometime today, eat your black-eyed peas…and, if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll figure out why.