• Why Do We Eat Black Eyed Peas On New Years Day?


    And Why Do We Believe They Bring Us Luck?

    from bumblebeeblog.com

    from bumblebeeblog.com

    Think it’s been long, long time since the Civil War in this country? If you do, you might want to think again because the truth is that it really hasn’t been that long ago that American turned on American and people in the South literally nearly starved to death as a direct result of that war.

    In fact, given the longevity of my family, I was able to hear a soldier’s stories of those days, from those who heard them firsthand, my grandfather and great-grandmother.

    My great-grandmother was born in Alabama during Reconstruction, her mother from a wealthy southern plantation family, a family that absolutely had never even entertained the idea of eating…black eyed peas…of all things! No, those peas were grown as fodder for the stock.

    My great-grandmother’s father served with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia for the entire four-year duration of the war, a war that was fought not only on the battlefield but also in the front yard of southern families who were so often forced to stand and watch as everything they had to sustain themselves was carried away by the hands of soldiers who came calling.

    Major General William T. Sherman is often given credit for the fact that we put black eyed peas on our tables today since the express purpose of his infamous March to the Sea was to completely break the backs of the southern families along the way, economically as well as psychologically.

    Marching out in November of 1864, Sherman and his men spread havoc among all in their way, until they arrived in the city of Savannah just before Christmas.

    Sherman telegraphed President Lincoln, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.”

    As the story goes, Sherman’s men destroyed all…except for the black eyed peas. The new year of 1865 dawned with some very thankful (some called it lucky) people who were left with the peas to sustain themselves, and the thanks (or the luck) has been celebrated in the South ever since.

    While I don’t want to take away from that horrible march, the truth is that it wasn’t only those who lived in the path of Sherman who were forced to eat peas to stay alive.

    No, it was all over the South that families found their foodstuff stolen…all except for the “cow feed” of the day, black eyed peas. People believed it was a blessing or just pure luck that soldiers left the peas.

    Regardless of the why, they were able to cook them, and I suppose they must have decided that they weren’t half bad since black eyed peas continue to grace tables across the south today.

    And that my friends is why (at least according to my own southern roots and heritage) people all accross the South eat black eyed peas every single New Years day, whether they know it or not!

    About Fredda Jones

    Fredda Davis Jones was raised “in the country” in Comanche County and learned very early that creativity and innovation are traits that can flourish even in small-town Texas and that with enough effort, indeed nothing is impossible, including being married to the same man for over 40 years! Rickey and Fredda have 2 children, 5 grandchildren, and a crazy life that includes sitting in the bleachers several times a week. The rest of her time is spent creating great content for texansunited.com and marketing small-town Texas.
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    6 Responses to Why Do We Eat Black Eyed Peas On New Years Day?

    1. Polly Reed says:

      I had just looked some of this up to be certain I was correct. Later, I got your article. I just emailed the kids that I forgot to give them collard greens when they were here Christmas! Tom always makes wonderful peas but they all forget the greens…for folding money! I have always thought that was part of the tradition too. Cabbage or any greens will “work” but those collards left standing in the fields along with the dried peas completed the survivors diet. I have read that it was all that kept the Southern army, as well as the ravaged farm families alive. Collards are a very good source of calcium and other nutrients that they needed.

    2. Betty DuBose Hamilton says:

      Do you suppose “mess” was the Southern way of saying “mass” of peas? It does take a “mass” of peas to shell and have enough for a family to eat.

      • Fredda Jones Fredda Jones says:

        Well, I don’t know, but that is a thought.

      • Sharon Peek says:

        No, Betty, mess has never been “the Southern way” of saying mass. We also like to cook up a nice mess of fish and could eat a mess of whatever is being craved at the moment. It’s just used to represent an undetermined amount of something. Southerners have always known the difference between mess and mass. If not, we’d be in a whole mess of trouble.

    3. Donna Christy says:

      I grew up in North Florida and we always had black eyed peas and collards for New Year’s. I cook it every year and my family loves the old tradition .
      A “mess” is enough to feed your family a good meal of whatever it is you are picking :)

    4. It would be interesting to know other’s opinions on how many peas constitute a “mess” of peas. I remember neighbor’s inviting other neighbors to come over and pick a “mess” of peas in their garden.

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