Black History Month Spotlight with Chef Sam: The “Good Luck” Token for Every New Years Day

February 09, 2024

Black History Month Spotlight with Chef Sam: The “Good Luck” Token for Every New Years Day

Braised Black Eyed Peas with Smoked Ham Hocks over Rice    

This humbled legume as we currently know it was originally used as food for livestock, before eventually becoming a staple for food consumption of slaves.  During the civil war, black eyed peas were ignored by the Sherman troops, left behind in the fields they became an important food for the confederate south. 

The story of THE BLACK EYED PEA being considered “good luck” relates directly back to the Sherman Bloody March to the Sea in late 1864.  It was called The Savannah Campaign and was led by the Major General Willia, T. Sherman.  The Civil War campaign began on November 15, 1864 when Sherman’s troops marched from the captured city of Atlanta, Georgia, and ended at the port of Savannah on December 22, 1864.

When the smoke cleared, the southerners who survived the onslaught came out of hiding.  They found everything of value had been looted and stolen and everything you could eat including all the livestock.  Death and destruction was everywhere.  While in hiding, few had enough to eat, and starvation was now a reality.

There was no intentional aid,  no Red Cross meal trucks.  The northern army had taken everything they could carry and had eaten everything they could eat, but they didn’t take it all.  The devastated people of the south found the troops had left silos (a container for holding grains on farm) full of black eyed peas. At the time, the lowly black eyed pea was the only used to feed livestock.  The northern troops saw it as the least of value.  Taking grains for their horses and livestock, along with other crops to feed themselves, they just couldn’t take it all.  So, they left the black eyed peas in great quantities assuming it would be no use to the survivors, since all the livestock it could fees had been either eaten or taken. 

Southerners awoke to face a new year in this devastation and were facing massive starvation if not for the good luck of having the black eyed peas to eat.  Form New Years Day 1666 forward, the tradition grew to eat black eyed peas on New Years Day for “good luck”.  It is a tradition my family continues to commemorate, along with millions of other african-Americans across the country to this day.  Welcoming the New Year with great expectations of “What’s to come”.  New Years Day is humbly celebrated with a generous bowl of slow simmered black eyed peas over rice, generally served with hot water corn bread - formally known as “Hoe Cakes” made with cornmeal, flour, butter and salt, hand shaped and fried in shallow oil until golden brown on both sides while moist and “caky” on the inside. 

- Chef Sam

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