Consume and Quaff

New Year’s Means Cornbread and Peas

On this first day of 2013, I’m thinking of traditions: what we eat, what we plan and what we remember.

I’m Southern, born and bred (even when we lived in Italy, it was in southern Italy). I’ve realized that by being Southern, I do certain things without necessarily thinking about it. I say “yes m’am” to someone a decade younger than me; I root for whatever SEC team is playing in a bowl game (even Carolina and Florida); I think that food tastes better out of a cast iron skillet.

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Back right: black-eyed peas. Front left: wide acre peas. Front right: yellow squash.

Now, I usually don’t adhere to food traditions (except that I have to have cornbread dressing for Christmas, or it doesn’t count). However, this New Year’s day, I wanted black eyed peas, greens and cornbread. I don’t know the real reason why this tradition started or what exactly it means, but there are several stories floating around, most stating that this particular meal will bring prosperity and luck in the new year. The peas stand for “change,” as in “pocket change” and the greens symbolize paper money: greenbacks. Well, the local Piggly Wiggly was out of turnip greens, so we made yellow squash instead. I’m letting them stand in for “gold” and we’ll call it good. Want to know about New Year’s food traditions in other countries? Check out this article from Smithsonian Magazine.

But here’s what I really love about this meal, even more than the taste, which is comforting and hearty and oh-so-good. My mom cooks the squash in a cast iron skillet that belonged to my great-great-grandmother. The cornbread is made in the cornbread pans that my great-grandmother used. All during the preparation of this meal, and the eating of it, we talk about family: my great-grandfather who was a farmer and used to let me ride on the tractor with him; my grandmother, who would crumble up the cornbread into the greens pot liquor on new year’s day and take a bite to “make it taste better”; my great-grandmother, who would fix huge meals and feed anyone who needed it during the Great Depression. Image

This is what makes tradition meaningful to me–remembering the people and stories that help make me who I am.

So, on this day of fresh starts and new beginnings, I’m reaching into the past for some of my goals for 2013:

  • Learn to thread–and use–a sewing machine
  • Learn to knit
  • Learn to season a cast iron skillet
  • Learn to make cornbread without a recipe
  • Learn to make my mom’s cornbread dressing
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