Black-Eye Peas; A New Year’s Day Tradition Revived

Did you have Black-eye Peas yesterday? Did you have cornbread, greens, and/or rice with your peas? Eating the peas on January 1, is a tradition that dates back to the Civil War. There wasn’t a clear explanation, or any explanation for that matter, that I could find.

Since no “official” story or explanation is available, I have my own:


During the war when those darn Yankees came through and took everything of value, including food, the peas were left behind. Black-eye peas take time to cook, time the soldiers didn’t want to spend. If they even knew how to cook them. Not to mention the peas don’t look “pretty” either on the vine or in the pantry. This left black-eye peas as one of the few foods for the southerners to eat during and immediately following the war. The peas were considered “lucky” because they helped keep the south from starving. They became a New Year’s Day tradition when the war was over, and the south was starting to rebuild. They were embarking on a new beginning and peas were a big part of that. Today, we eat them on New Year’s Day because that is a new beginning.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Black-eyed peas and I have had an on and off relationship. Growing up it was on. My mother cooked and served them every year on the first. After I married, my husband and I may or may not have had them, depending on our moods and what else we had going on. After his death I began going to my sister’s house for New Year’s Day. She, like our mother, always served black-eye peas.

A couple of years ago I decided I didn’t want to make that drive, I started having my own little get-together. It’s a great, low-key way to celebrate the new year with family and friends. No decorating needed, your Christmas decorations work just fine. In fact, you might use the “party” as a way to get your friends to help you put away your decorations.

The food is easy. A pot of black-eye peas, cornbread,  something to drink, tea, coffee, water, all work fine, depending on your group. Greens, collard greens, mustard greens, kale, or spinach, all make a compatible side dish but aren’t necessary. Some people also serve rice with their beans, again nice but not necessary. The star of the show is the pot, bowl of black-eye peas.



My recipe for Black-eye Peas (directions really, not much recipe)

1 1pound bag of black eye peas (a 3 pound bag if you’re cooking for a crowd, more if a large crowd)

1/2-1 onion chopped (depends on how much you like onion)

A piece of ham with fat (three or four strips of bacon will work if no ham is available, but the left over ham bone from Christmas works well. How much ham will depend on what you have, and how much meat you want in your beans.)


Put the beans in your stock pot, bean pot, large saucepan and cover with at least 2 inches of water. Let soak overnight. Some people pour that water off before beginning to cook the peas. Cover the beans with cold water, add the ham and onion. Bring water to a boil, turn down and simmer until the beans are tender, the ham is falling off the bone, and the juice looks good.

Ladle into bowls, serve with cornbread and enjoy.

Forgetful option: Cover the beans with several inches of water, bring to a rolling boil, turn off heat, cover peas and let them sit for an hour. After an hour  (or a little more if you forget) stir the peas, add more water if needed, the ham and onion, return heat to a simmer. Cook until done. Serve.



I didn’t have guests over this year because my cast iron skillet won’t fit in my little toaster oven, and that’s the best way to cook cornbread, in a cast iron skillet. I can bake it in cake pans but it’s not as good. Sis was skiing in Colorado, so she didn’t have her usual gathering. I welcomed the New Year with my bowl of peas and some cornbread and visited with friends by phone. A perfect day.

My cornbread recipe

2Cups cornmeal (you can include flour if you want, just subtract the amount of flour from the amount of cornmeal-if you do 1/2 cup flour, use 1 1/2 cups cornmeal)

1 teaspoon (or less) salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 egg

1 cup milk  (sweet milk or buttermilk, either will work)

1 tablespoon bacon grease (bacon makes everything better, if you don’t use it, any cooking oil will work)

Turn oven to 350, pour bacon grease or oil in cast iron skillet, or pan of your choice, place in oven to melt the grease.

Mix cornmeal (flour if you’re using it), baking powder, and salt together. Stir in egg and milk.

Take skillet from oven, swirl fat around to coat bottom of pan, pour excess in cornbread mix. Stir, and pour mix into hot pan.

Place in oven and cook 30 min., or until done to the touch. It will begin to brown a little.

Note: No, I don’t use sugar in my cornbread, you can I don’t care. My mother-in-law taught me to make cornbread, she didn’t use sugar so I don’t. Besides, I figure if I’m going to eat sweet, I want to eat real sweet, cake, cookie, brownie, not hint of sweet.

Hope you had a great day yesterday and the year continues to be awesome for you.

Do you eat Black-eye Peas on the first?

Do you have any other traditions for the New Year?

Have you have you added any new traditions to your life?

Share your thoughts in the comments below. I love hearing from you and getting your ideas.



About Nita

Quilter, writer, speaker, mom and grandmom. I enjoy making quilts for my grandkids, and other children. I especially love hearing and sharing quilt stories with others, that's how the book came about and this blog will continue to share quilt stories and how God works with quilts to comfort and teach us.
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10 Responses to Black-Eye Peas; A New Year’s Day Tradition Revived

  1. I’m a northerner who has lived in the South (Texas, Florida and Arkansas). I am not a great fan of black eyed peas, but I’ve grown some of their relatives – it does well in the hot southern garden. Now, cornbread, I like. And I love collards (sweet, after the frost) cooked with a hambone) served with good BBQ.

  2. I’ve never heard of this tradition before. I’ll try and do it next year.

    • Nita says:

      This year in music, you must be from the north or maybe the east coast. I hope you enjoy them. They’re best when family and friends join you.

  3. I have always made Black Eyed Peas as well as I grew up with them. But this year I almost didn’t make any until that night then I cheated and just picked up a can at the store. Only they wasn’t as good as Fresh ones. So my mother in law saved me and cooked some Fresh ones and broughtme a huge bowl which made me feel like I had died and gone to Heaven. So Happy New Years to you and I can’t wait to try the Corn Bread Recipe I just need to get a Cast Iron Skillet as I agree it makes the best Corn Bread.

  4. Susan Landry says:

    Your ‘forgetful option’ sounds a lot like how I make my red beans & rice. Yum! All good beans need a hunk of pork in there to flavor them up!

  5. I’ve never tried them and I never will but I’m glad you and so many others get pleasure from them. By the way, are they a pea or a bean?

    • Nita says:

      Kelly, I’ll have to look into that. They’re called “pea” but I use “pea” and “bean” interchangeably with black-eyes and purple-hulls. Thanks for the question.

  6. In Italy it is said eating lentils brings good luck for the coming year. Beans in many forms (depending on the culture) have been considered ‘lucky’. One theory as to how they came to symbolize money and good fortune is that they expand as they cook…symbolizing expanding wealth. In any case, Happy New Year to you!! 🙂

  7. Nona says:

    I love your theory of why the black eye pea is lucky.

    We do eat them on New Years, but I prefer my cornbread to be the fried kind.

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