Here’s a Deep South shocker: the Southern tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day originated with the Jews. (I guess the salt pork floating atop the pot threw me off.)
Wikipedia says Jews have been eating black-eyed peas for good luck at Rosh Hashana since 500 CE, and Sephardic and Israeli Jews still do today. How come none of my Jewish friends bothered to share this with me?
Apparently the Southern black-eyed pea tradition originated with Sephardic Jews who settled in Georgia back in the 1730’s. The pork addition doesn’t need much explanation. We Southerners can’t cook anything without throwing in a hunk of the stuff.
Although I love the way pork flavors black-eyed peas, I don’t especially like a hunk the size of an old shoe swimming in the middle. This year I decided to change that. Thick slice the salt pork, then cut it into pieces a person might actually want to eat. Next, fry up those little bite-size nuggets. Not only is golden brown a better look than gray boiled, there are also renderings for sautéing onions and peppers to flavor the beans.
Now it’s time to add the beans and liquid. I’ve always used water, but this year I switched to more flavorful chicken broth. Bring all this to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer. Keep cooking the beans until they start to break down and turn the pot juices from translucent to opaque. Otherwise you’ll end up with watery, wan beans. Salt the beans only after they have fully softened. (Salt too soon and they never will.)
Now they’re ready to eat. You’ll need cornbread. Vinegar’s nice too, and if you like heat, vinegar-soaked peppers (aka pepper sauce) is even better. A little crunch in the form of minced red onion is a nice foil to the soft pork and beans.
And the final Southern touch: drop a coin into the pot for good luck. This year for the first time ever (battling the Great Recession), I’m dropping in more than one.