New Year’s Day has always consisted of very few activities in our house: cooking, eating, drinking and football. Maybe the Christmas decorations come down – maybe. That is, if the naps don’t interfere. I imagine it’s this way in a lot of households, but in the South, there is one important item on the menu: black-eyed peas, which are also known as cowpeas, hoppin’ john or “Texas Caviar”.
The tradition of eating black-eyed peas on the first day of the New Year dates back to the Civil War for Texans. It is said that those who eat the humble bean show their humility and therefore bring themselves good fortune - a day of good fortune for every black-eyed pea you eat. Back in the day, the beans stood for copper and gold coins as well as luck. This tradition is so important to Texans, it’s rumored you can lose your citizenship if you don’t partake. I’m all for luck, so I’m not about to buck tradition any time soon.
Now, black-eyed peas aren’t the tastiest thing around, at least to me, so I’ve made a few changes to Granny’s recipe over the years. These have just the right amount of heat, but, of course, you can leave out the spices and throw in some cabbage to take that odd taste away.
1 lb. Black-eyed Peas
1 lb. Mixed Dried Beans
1/4 lb. Ham or Bacon
1 Medium Onion - Chopped
1 Green Bell Pepper - Chopped
3-4 Celery Stalks - Chopped
3 Cloves Garlic
1/2 tsp. Pepper
4 cups Water
2 cups Chicken Stock
2 Tbsp. Cilantro
2 tsp. Cumin
2 tsp. Chipotle Pepper
1 can Rotel Tomatoes (Regular canned, chopped tomatoes are fine too.)
Over Medium heat, brown the ham or bacon. Once it has a nice color, throw in the trinity - onion, bell pepper and celery. Let those cook for about five minutes or until soft and then add the garlic and black pepper.
Next, add the dried beans that have been soaked overnight (or at least a few hours), water, chicken stock, cilantro, cumin and chili pepper. Bring all this to a boil and then cover and simmer for two hours. Next add the tomatoes and simmer for another hour or so.
I actually like to do these the day before because it seems like they get a little thicker in the fridge overnight. Also, be sure not to add salt in the beginning, even though you'll want to. The ham or bacon and chicken stock have enough and you could easily overdo it. Just add salt to taste, if needed, when you are ready to serve them.
The other tradition we have on New Year’s Day is chili. Not just any chili – Lady Bird Johnson’s Pedernales River Chili. We’ve had this, along with the beans, ever since I can remember. Although, sometimes there’s tamales thrown in the mix as well. I’ve never found a true, Texas chili I like more and it shows just what a spicy little lady she was.
Here's her recipe from the LBJ library: