Black-eyed Peas: A New Year’s Tradition and American History Lesson

Black-eyed Peas: A New Year’s Tradition and American History Lesson

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Like many families, we start our New Year with a dinner that includes black-eyed peas, cornbread, and greens.  It’s a tradition that we started several years ago after moving to New England.  It simply wouldn’t seem like the first day of the year without black-eyed peas and greens served at our farmhouse table.  I love a meal that has a great story and a tie to our nation’s history and this meal more than delivers on both fronts.

The tradition of eating black-eyed peas with greens and other items such as cornbread and pork dates back to the Civil War which began about 20 years after our farmhouse was built.  At that time, peas of this type were planted as food for livestock and were also a staple for slaves living in the South.  It is thought that the black-eyed pea originally made its way to the United States on slave ships bound from Africa.  They were a crop and food source that slaves had brought with them on their perilous journey.  They were a part of their heritage and culture that they were able to bring with them.

When Sherman’s troops were marching through the South they destroyed crops along with anything that might be of use to the Confederates.  As legend has it, the Union troops completely ignored the fields of nutritious and hardy black-eyed peas, thinking that they were unfit for human consumption and of no use to them or the Confederates.  They were viewed as lowly livestock fodder and left standing. The Confederates were grateful that the peas which had so many uses had been spared. 

Those black-eyed peas became a symbol of luck and prosperity.  The peas are said to represent coins while the greens symbolize paper money.  Cornbread is often served alongside to serve as the gold in a meal that celebrates the prosperity we hope that the New Year will bring.

If you’ve ever wondered why this meal is served on January 1st, the answer is simple.  On January 1, 1863, a common meal of black-eyed peas and greens was most likely eaten by men, women, and children who greeted the New Year as free citizens thanks to The Emancipation Proclamation which went into effect on that date.  For them and our country, it was not only a new year, but a new beginning, a new life with newfound freedom.

We’ll be sitting down to a plate of black-eyed peas and garlicky baby kale with homemade cornbread and  local pork sausages on New Year’s Day.  With every bite, I’ll hope that 2018 will bring prosperity, hope, and love to each and every one of us.

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If you’ve been thinking about adding an Instant Pot to your kitchen, this is the one I use here in our Farmhouse Kitchen.  I can’t believe how versatile and useful it is.  I only wish that I had purchased one sooner!


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Black-eyed Peas
Hoppin’ John is the traditional black-eyed pea preparation made in the South for New Year’s Eve. I’ve modified our version a bit to suit our tastes, but the flavor is still true to the original. I like to cook my beans in my Instant Pot simply because they cook so well in such a short amount of time. Whether you cook dried beans in a large pot on the stove, your Instant Pot, or substitute a few cans of drained beans, this dish will be delicious and comforting on your New Year’s dinner table or any day of the year.
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Ingredients
  1. 16 ounces dried black-eyed peas
  2. 6 cups water
  3. 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  4. 1 large onion, chopped finely
  5. 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped finely
  6. 4 cloves garlic, minced
  7. 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced
  8. 8 ounces frozen sweet corn kernels
  9. 1 teaspoon chili powder
  10. ½ teaspoon cumin
  11. 2-4 cups bone broth or stock
  12. salt and pepper to taste
Instant Pot Preparation
  1. To cook the beans in an Instant Pot, add 1 pound of dried beans to the liner of your Instant Pot with 6 cups of water to cover the beans. Secure the lid, turn the pressure release valve to “Sealing”, and cook on the “Bean/Chili” setting at high pressure for 20-25 minutes depending on how tender you desire the black-eyed peas to be. I split the difference and cook for about 23 minutes. When the cycle has finished, allow the pressure to release naturally for about 10 minutes before turning the valve to “Venting” to safely release any remaining steam. Press the “Cancel” button, open the pot, drain the black-eyed peas, and return the liner to the Instant Pot.
  2. Select the “Sauté” setting on your Instant Pot. Add the olive oil to the pot followed by the onion and cook until translucent, approximately 3-4 minutes. Add the red bell pepper and cook until softened. Add the garlic and minced chipotle pepper. Cook them for 1 minute, taking care not to overwhelm yourself with the spicy aroma released from the pepper as it warms up.
  3. Add the frozen corn, chili powder, cumin, and drained black-eyed peas to the pot. Add 2 cups bone broth or your favorite stock to the pot and stir to combine. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed.
  4. Add more bone broth or stock to the pot in order to achieve your desired consistency. Simmer for 10 minutes or longer, until the black-eyed peas are tender and the flavors have come together. Cancel the sauté setting, select the “Keep Warm” setting on your Instant Pot, add a lid, and keep the black-eyed peas warm until you are ready to serve.
Stove Top Preparation
  1. To cook the beans on the stove, add 1 pound of dried black-eyed peas to a large pot and add 6 cups of fresh water to cover. Bring the water to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes; remove from heat, and cover. Allow the pot to sit for approximately 1 hour. Drain the black-eyed peas until needed.
  2. Place the empty pot on a burner over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the onion and cook until translucent, approximately 4-5 minutes. Add the red bell pepper and cook until softened. Add the garlic and minced chipotle pepper. Cook them for 1 minute, taking care not to overwhelm yourself with the spicy aroma released from the pepper as it warms up.
  3. Add the frozen corn, chili powder, cumin, and drained black-eyed peas to the pot. Add 2 cups bone broth or your favorite stock to the pot and stir to combine. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed.
  4. Add more bone broth or stock to the pot in order to achieve your desired consistency. Simmer for 10 minutes or longer, until the black-eyed peas are tender and the flavors have come together. Reduce the heat to low, add a lid, and keep warm until you are ready to serve.
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