It always seems to go back to the Civil War. Those “silly” Southern traditions that migrated North with my family when we moved from Georgia to Maine just 4 short years ago. The ones that I am determined to preserve in our family.
I find that my Northern friends are fascinated with our traditions.
I’m pretty fascinated with theirs, so I guess we are even.
My kids are stuck in the middle. When Curly Q goes to school to talk about what our family had for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s dinners, I am faced with the questions from her like, “why can’t we eat “normal” foods like chop suey and stuffing and chowder??”
With New Year’s dinner coming up I am faced with another problem altogether: finding the foods that are so plentiful in the South for the traditional meal.
Before I get into that, though, I have a question for you (maybe you can help me out…): What do Northerners traditionally eat on New Year’s Day? I have polled a few friends and co-workers and there isn’t a single consistent answer. Most of them said “football food” – chicken wings, appetizers, anything that goes with beer to watch “the game”. A few said that they eat a seafood chowder or oyster stew. I “googled” ‘traditional Northern New Year’s foods’, and the most consistent thing I could find was sauerkraut and pork, but nobody that I talked to had that as their answer.
So what do Southerners eat for New Year’s dinner? And why?? Well, like I said earlier, it all goes back to the Civil War, or as my grandparents used to refer to it, “The War of Northern Aggression”…
Apparently, and according to folklore (which abounds in the South), Union troops under the leadership of General Sherman, stripped the countryside of crops and livestock. All that was left behind were field peas, greens, corn, and pig fat (salted pork) which the Northerners considered unsuitable for human consumption. Rich in nutrients, these were the foods that enabled many Southerners to survive.
All of that being said, to this day every self respecting Southerner has a very traditional and superstitious meal on New Year’s Day: collard greens (representing dollar bills or money), black-eyed peas (representing good luck), and pork (because it tastes good with the other two, or wealth depending on who you talk to). Then you mop up all of the tasty juices left behind, also known as “pot likker”, with some buttery cornbread (because corn was more plentiful than wheat for bread).
I bet that sounds absolutely crazy to my Northern friends.
I told my husband yesterday that I was thinking about taking a break from making the traditional New Year’s meal because I’m all cooked-out from Christmas and Thanksgiving. I’m exhausted from cooking all day when I’m supposed to be enjoying a holiday with my kids and pizza and chicken wings sounded pretty good to me! He looked at me like I had two heads and said, “But… but… but… all we need are greens and peas!” I’m pretty sure he doesn’t realize how hard it is to find them…
So I guess my quest for the weekend is to actually locate these goodies in the grocery store. If all else fails I know they have them in cans, it just won’t be the same.
Either way, I’ve never known anyone to actually benefit from eating these foods. No windfall has come their way because they “ate their greens”. The benefit in eating these traditional meals, I guess, is in the rich connection we feel to our family and the generations before us. And I guess that is where the wealth, luck and good fortune come in after all.
So, what does your family have for New Year’s dinner? Please share in the comments below.