“Pickled herring for health,” said Lorraine Jones, who grew up in Maine, as she talked about her family’s New Year’s tradition. “You always eat pickled herring on New Year’s Day.”
Resolutions also are a part of start a new year for many people, and for most folks there are a variety of traditions. Many related to food, or maybe those are the one I relate to best.
For my friend Bob Karlstromer, New Year’s Day starts with a hearty breakfast of salt mackerel served with new boiled potatoes topped with sour cream. Bob says this early morning specialty comes from his father’s Swedish heritage.
Later in the day, comes Hoppin’ John, which was started on New Year’s Eve while having a hot buttered rum. The Hoppn’ johns are a southern dish inherited from his mother, who was born and raised in Georgia.
According to Bob, Hoppin’ Johns are black-eyed peas cooked with hog jowls, which are severed over a bed of separately cooked rice. He also said another important part of the meal is fried corn bread. “You have to make it from scratch because all of the commercial mixes have sugar in them. True southern cornbread doesn’t have sugar. That’s a sacrilege. There is a picture in a Savannah restaurant showing a cook being hanged because she put sugar in the cornbread.”
While sitting around with friends and trying to stay awake till the start of the New Year, we talked about a number of the traditions.
One couple said pork and sauerkraut always was on their New Year’s menu.
In our family, corned beef and cabbage is the tradition. Blackeye peas also has been added to the menu. My wife, Phyllis always cooked a clean penny in the corned beef and cabbage for luck throughout the new year.
Black-eyed peas are traditionally southern and have an interesting history. According to one internet website, “Back in the days of the Wild West, Southern gentility, and Northern hostility, our celebrated black-eyed peas were used strictly for the feeding of cattle in the South. During the Civil War battle of Vicksburg, the town was under siege for over 40 days. No supplies went in and none came out The entire town was on the brink of starvation. So they ate those humble "cowpeas," thus starting a southern tradition.
“Nowadays blackeyes are eaten every New Year's Day to bring good luck for the coming year. All the way back to the days of the Pharaoh, black-eyed peas have been a symbol of luck and fortune. The superstition is that those who eat blackeyes, an inexpensive and modest food, show their humility and save themselves from the wrath of the heavens because of the vanity they might have. Black-eyed peas are neither a pea nor a bean. They are lentils.”
Martha Coultas says she prepares many of the same foods--corn bread, corned beef, cabbage, plus serves jowl bacon and fried potatoes. “Plain and simple foods are best,” said her husband, Doyle.
Mary Thomas also cooks many of the same dishes, however her main course is a Boston Butt pork roast. “The cabbage means money, and the blackeyed peas mean health. “Health and wealth mean happiness,” explained Mary, who said the New Year food traditions go back to her grandmother.
Talking about another tradition, Lorraine Jones said she places several coins on the outside window sill before midnight on New Year’s eve. “When I was young, we were always poor. Someone told me to put the coins on the window sill, and it worked. We were never rich after that, but we always had enough money for school lunches or whatever. We always had a dollar or two for what we needed. We still do it today.”
(Unfortunately, Bob and Martha have passed since this column was written, but their memories and others remain strong.)