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The lucky black eyed pea

Rick Patrick, Greene Publishing, Inc.

For many people throughout the south, the traditional New Year's Day meal has changed little over the years. Black eyed peas, greens (turnips, collards, mustards, and in some places cabbage), and corn bread. While this tradition continues to this day, some may not know the history behind the traditional southern fare.

The roots of the black eyed pea can be traced as far back as prehistoric China and India where they were believed to have been cultivated. Ancient Greeks and Romans were also believed to have enjoyed black eyed peas. Records show that black eyed peas were brought from West Africa to the West Indies as early as the 1600s in the slave trade. By the 18th century, they had reached the low country of coastal Georgia and the Carolinas. Prior to the Civil War, the black eyed pea was mainly used to feed livestock. During his famous “march to the sea,” Union General Sherman destroyed most food crops, but left the black eyed peas, thinking they had very little use to the surviving Confederates. With little else to eat, those surviving southerners learned to enjoy the black eyed pea. Because the pea was one of the few food sources available, it began to be associated with good fortune.

As years went by, the black eyed pea began to be paired with greens as another symbol of good fortune. Southerners associated the black eyed pea with coins, greens with paper money, and corn bread with gold. Black eyed peas served with stewed tomatoes are believed to bring wealth and health. As traditions hold, for the best chance of luck every day in the new year, one should eat 365 black eyed peas on New Year's Day. In some families, a dime or a penny is added to the pot just before serving. The person who got the coin would receive the best luck in the new year. Unless, of course, they accidentally swallowed the coin. That would be a rather unlucky way in which to begin the new year.

Regardless of their perceived value in bringing good fortune, the black eyed pea does bring good nutrition. Black eyed peas are relatively low in fat and high in protein. Black eyed peas are a good source of magnesium, iron, many B vitamins, as well as dietary fiber.

So this year, enjoy a traditional New Year's Day feast of black eyed peas, greens, corn bread, and anything else you may enjoy with the company of good friends and family. That alone will make you a very fortunate person indeed.

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