Stirring up memories
Pass the Black-Eyes
December 25, 2002
On New Year’s Day
I will take the wreath down from the front door, and smooth and fold the last
stray pieces of tissue paper. At our
house, the Christmas tree will have been gone since the day after
Christmas. It lives in a pot on my
front porch and comes in for only a day or two for its one string of lights and
assortment of tiny balls. One of these
days, it’s going to get too big for the pot.
Then I will plant it in the yard, and we will begin again with a new
Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are cleaning-up days, change-of-pace days. We’ll think about the old year, remember
good old times and a few hard ones, then start promising ourselves to sign up
for the aerobics class, read good books and floss our teeth twice a day. We’ll
vow to get those pictures from summer vacation into an album, and answer all
the folks who sent Christmas letters.
watch lots of football and enjoy one last holiday meal. Diets and resolutions will begin on the
morning of January 2.
I was growing up, New Year’s Day meant black-eyed peas cooked with ham hock and
small whole okra pods, served with my grandmother’s cornbread (or as near as my
mother could come, but that’s a story for another day). Pork chops, cole slaw
and the bowl games filled out the menu.
I can’t remember what we had for dessert; we probably were still working
on the fruit cakes which, because they had been soaked in bourbon since
Thanksgiving, were getting rather heady.
For some reason, my grandmother thought it was wicked to drink spirits,
but quite all right to eat them.
For years, my mother made the black-eyes
from dried peas that she had soaked over night. One story we heard was that the peas should be covered with
running water exactly at midnight, that way good luck would soak right in. Later she became daring and used frozen
peas. I don’t know where the okra idea
came from. Surely out on the farm where
my dad grew up, okra was long gone by New Year’s Day.
is another traditional New Year’s food around the world, but especially in the
South. We cooked our black-eyes with
ham hock and ate pork chops, but for other Southerners, it’s pork jowl in the
black-eyes and ham on the table. Many families will add some rice and spice and
serve up Hoppin’ John. Almost everyone
will have greens. Greens are naturally
associated with money, and many families share collards or turnip greens rather
than my family’s traditional cole slaw.
everyone eats black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day—even in Bainbridge. Charlie Powell, a long-time City
Commissioner during the 1950s, refused them.
He told how one New Year’s Day during the Depression of the 1930s, his
wife made black-eyed peas for dinner and the next year was the hardest one he
ever lived through. He wasn’t sure he
would make it. His daughter, Gloria
Powell Coppinger, recalls that he would “eat black-eyes any day of the year,
but never on New Year’s.”
of us will be having the lucky fare as we welcome 2003. Sometimes in the traditional menu, but
sometimes with a new twist. This black-eyed pea concoction shows up often. I once fixed a spicier version calling it
Texas Caviar. Television host Nathalie
Dupree calls her milder recipe Mississippi Caviar. I’ve tweaked the recipe for years. Here is my final and favorite version for serving on New Year’s
Eve or during the football games on the big day itself.
Decatur County Caviar
2 16-ounce cans black-eyed peas
4 scallions, green parts only, minced
1 or 2 seeded and minced jalapeno peppers
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (or Italian parsley)
¼ cup drained and chopped pimentos
¼ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste
black-eyed peas and rinse well under running water. Combine the peas, scallions, jalapenos, cilantro and pimentos and
toss to mix. Whisk the oil, lime and
vinegar and pour over the black-eyed peas.
Season with salt and pepper.
mixture into a large glass jar or plastic container and marinate for three to
Serve with tortilla chips,
with extra chopped jalapenos and Tabasco sauce on the side.
New Year’s food often found in the Low Country of North and South Carolina are
benne (sesame seed) wafers. Benne traces
back to Africa and is part of the African-American tradition. They can be spicy or sweet. I serve the spicy wafers as an appetizer
all year ‘round, but they are extra fun at New Year’s since they look like
little gold coins.
Spicy Benne Cheese Wafers
½ cup sesame seeds
½ cup softened unsalted butter
2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more if you like spicy)
½ teaspoon dry mustard (or substitute 2 teaspoons prepared
½ teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Spread the sesame seeds on a baking sheet and bake
for five minutes stirring occasionally until they are toasted golden but not
together the butter, cheese and Worcestershire sauce. In a separate bowl combine the flour, spices and sesame
seeds. Gradually stir the flour mixture
into the butter and cheese to make a stiff dough. Knead until the dough is evenly blended.
small pieces of dough and roll into a small ball. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. With the tines of a fork, make a crisscross pattern.
Bake for 12
minutes or until crisp and brown. When
cool, store in an airtight container.
can be frozen as can the baked wafers.
Postscript—I wanted to
prepare the Spicy Lentils from last week’s recipe recently. The grocery store was out of lentils so I
substituted split peas. It’s just as
good that way. The next night I added
chicken broth and leftover lamb (no vegetarian to dinner that night). It made an excellent soup.
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network