Yesterday we had black eyed peas and collard greens, a traditional Southern meal on the first day of the year. It’s supposed to bring prosperity and good fortune. Does it work? I don’t know. It could have been worse if we hadn’t eaten it in past years.
I have heard the explanation for this humble meal being one of Civil War privation. For many Southerners this was all that was left after Union troops came through and requisitioned everything else. Typically, the collards are seasoned with a ham bone or a piece of salt pork. We had friends over and had a well seasoned tenderloin on the side.
As we wee eating I thought of two people; one of our granddaughters who loves her grandmother’s Southern cooking, and usually begs a meal when we are together, and Wendy, an ex-patriot Brit with whom we used to occasionally visit. Wendy is in a retirement home now. Se was in her early teens when the war in Europe came to England. She drove supplies in a lorry. Her brothers were fighter pilots, and both were shot down and died during the war.
I once told Wendy that my mother fixed Brussels Sprouts once a week. She cooked them with a little butter and probably salt and pepper. The were strong tasting and I wasn’t a fan. She shamed us into eating them by telling us that the British survived on Bussells Sprouts during WWII. Wend said, “Rubbish. We survived on rabbits. A man came through every week selling rabbits door-to-door. It was the only meat we had. Everything else went to the war effort. Rabbits then, and perhaps still, were considered an agricultural pest. The bunnies in England (called conies) burrow creating hazards for livestock and destroy a lot of garden crops.
We saw Wendy at our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and at the liquor store where she purchased her only alcoholic beverage, an Irish Whisky, Tullamore Dew. I need to go by and see Wendy. I’ve put it off. I don’t know whether she just got too infirm to care for herself or what. She has to be in her late 80s now. I’ve dreaded seeing her if she is really compromised. She has always been a breath of fresh air.
L tells me that the Civil War history of black eyed peas is a fable, that it was really pushed by some Texan who succeeded in getting everyone in the South to eat them on New years Day in he 20th Century. Some accounts of the meal tell of collards and black eyed peas being ‘soul food’ shared by emancipated slaves, or that it was all that emancipated slaves ha to eat). Who really knows?
The real message is that many meals are eaten in memory of hard times with hopes for better days. It helps that L is a really good cook who could make almost anything palatable. No one has ever turned up their nose at her collard greens. Wanda, a woman we met from the Eastern part of North Carolina taught us how to prepar and cook collards.
Happy New Year, y’all. health, happiness and prosperity to all in 2019.