The humble little black-eyed pea is a New Year’s symbol of good luck in the Southern U.S.
Several legends and traditions revolve around the black-eyed pea. Its consumption on the first day of January is believed to bring good luck, especially if at least 365 peas are consumed. If eaten with turnip greens or cabbage, prosperous times lie ahead.
The peas, called congre, may have arrived in with slaves. During the Civil War, vast crops were burned with the exclusion of black-eyed peas, which were used to feed cattle. Many families of all classes survived thanks to black-eyed peas. After that, they were no longer considered “poor man’s” food or fodder.
In ancient times, it was thought that eating black-eyed peas demonstrated humility and would bring blessings from the gods.
They’re known as crowder peas, cowpeas, chawli, lobiya, beans, and black-eye beans. The yellow-eyed cowpea has a lighter-colored eyespot.
Dried, canned, and frozen beans are readily available in many regions. Fresh peas may be purchased at farmers’ markets. After shelling, they can be blanched and frozen.
Refrigerated cooked peas up to a week. They freeze well. Dried peas will keep one year in the pantry. Warmth makes them hard and humidity can cause mold. Do not mix with fresher packages; older products may take longer to soften. In fact, old beans should be discarded as some will never become soft.
• Overcooking will make black-eyed peas mushy.
• For every cup of dried peas, add four cups water. Drain once in the first thirty minutes of cooking time to reduce digestive problems.
• Two cups dried beans equals five cups cooked.