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Posted: December 19, 2013 10:00 p.m.

A rich plate of season's eatings

In just five days, we’ll be sitting down – again – to a holiday table laden with the kinds of foods that make lifelong memories. It won’t be Christmas without turkey and ham, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, green beans, mashed potatoes, cornbread dressing and gravy as only a grandmother can make, cranberry salad, squash casserole with cheese, caramelized Brussels sprouts, baked oysters, and warm yeast rolls.

That’s only the beginning. We’ll practically race through that lineup in order to get to dessert: chocolate cake, pecan and mincemeat pies, pear tart, pumpkin cheesecake, and mounds of Christmas cookies. Don’t forget the eggnog!

Come New Year’s Day, just a week after the belt-busting Christmas repast, it’ll be time for a different kind of eating, and thank goodness, the Southern tradition is a simple one and imminently healthier than Thanksgiving and Christmas eating: black-eyed peas, cooked with pork to season, and greens, be they collards, turnip or mustard greens, or kale, the current darling of the culinary world.
Any Southerner worth his or her salt knows the symbolism in each component. Black-eyed peas are for luck or prosperity, and the greens represent money. One account I read says that even the pork has symbolic meaning: Pigs forage and root around, and that’s seen as positive forward motion.

If you’re a vegetarian, you can get the flavor – if not the forward motion (and the fat) from the pig – by seasoning the peas with a "ham-flavored concentrate" made by a company called Goya, available at local groceries.

David Waller introduced me to the product when he was looking for reduced-fat options for a Southern diet. David and his lovely wife Connie also pointed me to some interesting thoughts about black-eyed peas in a blog by a guy named Ron Perrin at Ronsblog. He explains the reverence for black-eyed peas in Southern history.

He writes that in the aftermath of General Sherman’s brutal March to the Sea that ended at Christmas 1864 in Savannah, survivors found the only thing Union troops had left behind were "silos full of black-eyed peas."

In the North, Perrin maintains, the peas were good only for livestock feed, and since Union troops had taken or eaten all the livestock, the Southerners were left with nothing to eat but cattle food. Oh, but they didn’t count on the sheer survival instincts of the war-calloused Georgians who made a new tradition of eating black-eyed peas at New Year’s for luck - and victory over death, as it were. Wikipedia waxes extensively on the popularity and usefulness of black-eyed peas worldwide, starting with traditional Southern dishes like Hoppin’ John made with peas, rice and pork, and Texas caviar made by marinating black-eyed peas in Italian salad dressing and chopped garlic and served cold as an appetizer with chips.

Portugal serves up black-eyed peas in combination with "boiled cod and potatoes, with tuna and in salads." In Vietnam, they become part of a sweet dessert made with sticky rice and coconut milk. (That gives me pause.) In Indonesia, they are used in spicy curry dishes. "In West Africa and the Caribbean," our beloved peas are mashed up with salt, onions and/or peppers and fried, like a fritter, I suppose. That’s exactly what it’s called in northern Colombia, where, after soaking, the skins are removed – labor intensive, for sure – and the remainder is ground and blended with eggs, then fried for breakfast.

"In Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia, … black-eyed peas are used in a traditional street food of Nigerian origin … . The beans are peeled (really?) and mashed, and the resulting paste is made into balls and deep-fried … ."

Southerners are definitely not the only deep-fried offenders in the world.

In Guyana, South America, the little fellows also have a connection to New Year’s. Wikipedia says "persons of African descent" prepare for the occasion something called cook-up rice. It’s made with rice, peas and various meats cooked in coconut milk with seasonings.

"According to tradition, cook-up rice should be the first thing consumed in the New Year for good luck."

All well and good, but when you get right down to it, the first thing many people want on New Year’s morning is a cure for a hangover, not that there is one. Prevention is the better route. Nevertheless, a popular recipe website, epicurious.com, offers up ideas that will, at least, nudge the recovery process along, courtesy of a gastroenterologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Both chocolate and bananas contain high amounts of potassium to replace what’s lost as your liver detoxifies.

Bacon has lots of amino acids, "a hangover’s best friend." Eggs are helpful, along with pancakes, a complex carbohydrate that helps to maintain blood sugar levels that drop, again, while the liver goes into detox mode.

And we say we’ll never do it again, right?

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She can be reached at barbm2158@gmail.com.

 

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