A Southern tradition, the eating of black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is said to guarantee good luck for the entire year. Ham and collard greens are said to bring fortune, as well; to hit all the bases, I came up with this Black-Eyed Pea, Collard Greens and Ham Soup for the New Year.
For the first eighteen years of my life, I would come downstairs on January 1st to find my mother waiting for me to take my first bite of black-eyed peas. As an adult, it was up to me to make my own luck. I once made a frantic late night trip to the grocery store on New Year’s Eve for a can of black-eyed peas. Knowing the store would be closed the next day, I left a friend’s party, drove to the nearest grocery store, and came back to the festivities, proudly clutching my can of peas. They remained in my purse for the night, and I happily cracked them open the next day and whipped up a hoppin’ john.
Why are these “lucky”? I have heard a few “rationalizations” for this legend, one being that the peas resemble coins, and eating them would guarantee wealth. Another tale is that during the War, the city of Vicksburg, Virginia ran out of food, and the people would have starved if it wasn’t for a crop of black-eyed peas. Whatever the lucky significance, I have never gone a year without having at least one bite of black-eyed peas, and I don’t intend to, ever. Ham and collard greens are also New Year’s Day staples.
According to Bon Appetit, pork is said to symbolize progress because of the animal’s behavior, always rooting and pushing forward with its snout. Because we don’t have the luxury of being able to purchase a whole suckling pig at the grocery store, ham make a delicious and affordable substitution. Collard greens’ vibrant color and resemblance to paper money symbolizes wealth and good fortune.
This Black-Eyed Pea, Collard Greens, and Ham Soup is soul-satisfying, even without the added luck it (assuredly) brings. I start with my basic recipe for collard greens simmered with a ham hock, red pepper flakes, and a little cider vinegar. After the hour-long cooking time to get them tender, I add black-eyed peas (fresh or frozen) and some chopped ham steak. If we have a spiral sliced ham for the holidays, I use the bone and remaining meat in this recipe (just leave out the ham steak and hocks).
Black Eyed Pea, Collard Greens, and Ham Soup
- 2 bunches fresh collard greens or kale or one bag chopped greens
- 3-4 ham hocks shanks, or neckbones*
- 1 large onion peeled and diced
- 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
- 1 32-ounce carton of vegetable stock
- 4 cups water
- 1 bag frozen black eyed peas
- 1 ham steak chopped or torn into bite sized pieces
- 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
Remove the tougher, woody stalks from the collard leaves. Smaller stems are okay. Wash the leaves and cut them into half-inch-wide strips. If using a bag of pre-cut greens, skip this step. Put the hocks, shanks or neckbones in a stock pot. Add the onion, collards, tomatoes, stock and water. Add the vinegar, red pepper, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, turn to low and simmer for at least 1 hour.
After the greens are tender, remove the ham hocks/shanks/neckbones. Shred any meat and return to the pot.
Add the chopped ham, carrots and peas, bring to boil, and simmer for 30 minutes or until peas are soft and thoroughly cooked. Serve in bowls with a baguette, if desired.
If you have a ham bone with a bit of meat still on it from a spiral sliced ham, you can skip buying the hocks and ham steak. Just remove the ham bone after the hour of simmering time. Shred off the meat, return it to the pot, and discard the bone.