Black History:  Special Delivery!!

black eyed peas

Eating black eyed peas and/or collard greens is a New Year’s Day holiday tradition for many African Americans.  But what’s the story behind these two food  staples?  Collard greens and black-eyed peas have long been hailed as symbols of prosperity and good luck; the tradition being that black eyed peas represent money in the form of coins and collard greens represent paper money.

Black eyed peas (which are actually beans by the way) were a food staple that was grown in Africa over 5,000 years ago.  They have been cultivated since pre-historic times; perhaps first cultivated in China and India.  During the 1700’s black eyed peas were exported to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade and were give as food rations to the enslaved as well as being used to feed livestock.  Once black eyed peas began being cultivated in the U.S., they were initially a food that was largely consumed by enslaved peoples and poor whites.  However, the staple dish would eventually find popularity in more affluent households.

There is an oral tradition widely shared that during the Civil War, when the Union Army raided Confederate army food supplies, the only thing that they left behind was black eyed peas and a few other crops that they deemed beneath their station.  It is believed that the Confederate army was able to use black eyed peas as a food source that helped them survive the winter.

We should also recognize that black eyed peas also represent good fortune in the Jewish culture as well.  Black eyed peas were eaten for good luck in North Africa to celebrate the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashannah) and also dating back to the era of the Babylonian Talmud.  The Sephardic Jewish tradition also encouraged eating black eyed peas for fertility and good fortune.  It is also a Jewish tradition to eat bitter greens during Passover as a reminder of the hard times endured by the Jews during their captivity.

Happy New Year!!