You may not want to face this, but in 10 more days a new year will be here!
So, are you interested in some good luck foods to celebrate the New Year?
“What foods are prepared on New Year’s Day in the USA to bring good luck? That depends upon the culture and cuisine! As New Year’s Day approaches, people around the world will plan for the coming year, eager to get off to the best possible start! Many people will “eat for luck”-they plan to eat special foods that, by tradition, are supposed to bring them good luck. Throughout history, people have eaten certain foods on New Year’s Day, hoping to gain riches, love, or other kinds of good fortune during the rest of the year…” from “Eat for Luck!,” by Victoria Sherrow & David Helton, Children’s Digest, Jan/Feb94
When I was a child growing up in predominately German Cincinnati, it was customary to have sauerkraut on New Year’s Eve. My mother cooked it with some kind of pork, and made mashed potatoes and creamed peas to ‘go with’ and served it at midnight. (I shudder to think of eating such a heavy meal at midnight today! My stomach would never take it). But my parents often had a New Year’s Eve party and that was the menu. I remember one year, I was babysitting for neighbors on Pulte Street when, at midnight, my brother Jim brought me a plate of sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and peas. I cried into the mashed potatoes thinking of the party I was missing. I never stopped to wonder why we had sauerkraut and pork on New Year’s Eve – it was a tradition in our family.
Someone inquired on Google about eating sauerkraut and this response was posted: ”Everyone I know says it’s for “good luck,” but no one can tell me with certainty where this custom started. It appears to be a German or a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition that has migrated to other portions of American culture, but down South other practices prevail: there, New Year’s Day calls for black-eyed peas — particularly a dish called Hoppin’ John, with seasonings and rice — and collard greens…”
When we were living in Florida for a few years, I became friends with a woman whose family was from Puerto Rico. They invited us to join them for a New Year’s day dinner which was made up of black beans and rice; that was their customary New Year’s meal. It was my introduction to Hoppin’ John. This legendary New Year’s dish is a casserole of rice and black-eyed peas, sometimes flavored with pork. It is thought to have been introduced to the South by African slaves. The dish was traditionally served with a shiny dime buried deep. The person whose portion had the coin was guaranteed good luck in the New Year (I guess as long as you didn’t swallow the dime–that wouldn’t be very lucky!).
To give you some idea of how people celebrate the New Year in various parts of the world, Romans, in ancient times, gave gifts of nuts, dates, figs, and round cakes. Northern Italians attempt to attract wealth at the New Year by eating lentils, symbolizing coins. In the Piedmont region of Italy, the New Year’s Day meal of risotto signifies wealth with its abundance of small grains. Another Italian custom is to eat sweets for a year of good luck. It can be as simple as a raisin or a more elaborate, almond-filled cake in the shape of a snake. As a snake sheds its old skin and leaves it behind, this cake symbolizes leaving the past behind as a new year begins. In Spain, you are promised good luck in the New Year if, at midnight, you eat one grape with each stroke of the clock. Dumplings are a traditional New Year’s food in northern China. Because they look like nuggets of gold, they are thought to signal good fortune. The Vietnamese celebrate their new year in late January and eat carp – a round-bodied fish thought to carry the god of good luck on its back. Cambodians celebrate their new year in April by eating sticky rice cakes made with sweet beans .In Iran, the New Year is celebrated in March, when grains of wheat and barley are sprouted in water to symbolize new life. Coins and colored eggs are placed on the table, which is set for a special meal of seven foods that begin with the letter “s”.
In some countries, cakes and cookies were traditionally served on New Year’s Day for many decades (Are these customs still observed? I don’t know). Donna R. Barnes and Peter G. Rose coauthors of “Matters of Taste: Food and Drink in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art and Life” (Syracuse University Press) have written: “New Year’s Eve was especially noisy, with the firing of guns to bring in the New Year. Ordinances in both the Netherlands and New Netherlands eventually prohibited such behavior. The special treat for New Year’s Day in the Netherlands were thick crisp waters, which originated in the eastern part of the country and adjoining parts of Germany. These wafers were made in a special wafer iron. The oblong or round long-handleed irons, made by blacksmiths, created imprints of a religious or secular nature on the wafers. Wafer irons were often given as a wedding gift, even in this country. Enormous quantities of wafers were prepared on New Year’s Day. The were consumed by family, servants, and guests distributed to children, who went from house to house singing New Year songs, while collecting their share of treats along the way. There is ample evidence in diaries and letters that Dutch Americans continued the custom of visiting each other on New Year’s Day. In New Netherlands…cookies were molded in wooden cake-boards, instead of wafer irons…The American New Year’s cake is a combination of two Dutch pastries brought here by the early settlers, the cookies described above and spiced, chewy, honey cakes formed in a wooden mold or cake-board. It was in the late eighteenth century that this homemade pastry prepared in heirloom wafer irons by the Dutch, changed to a mostly store-bought product purchased by the population at large….”
And, in the American Heritage Cookbook and Illustrated History of American Eating & Drinking, (American Heritage, 1964), I found the following: “The custom of paying New Year’s calls originated in New York, where the Dutch held open house on New Year’s Day and served cherry bounce, olykoeks [doughnuts] steeped in rum, cookies, and honey cakes. From New York the custom spread throughout the country. On the first New Year’s after his inauguration, George Washington opened his house to the public, and he continued to receive visitors on New Year’s Day throughout the seven years he lived in Phildadelphia. On January 1, 1791, a senator from Pennsylvania noted in his diary: “Made the President the compliments of the season; had a hearty shake of the hand. I was asked to partake of punch and cakes, but declined”…Eventually, it became common social practice for those who intended to receive company to list in newspapers the hours they would be “at home.” It was a disastrous practice: parties of young men took to dashing from house to house for a glass of punch, dropping in at as many of the homes listed in the papers as they could. Strangers wandered in off the streets, newspapers under their arms, for a free drink and a bit of a meal. The custom of having an open house on the first day of the year survived the assaults of the newspaper readers. The traditional cookies and cakes continued to be served, along with hot toddies, punches, eggnog, tea, coffee, and chocolate. But public announcements of at-home hours were dropped at the end of the nineteenth century, and houses were open only to invited friends.”
Do you eat a special food on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day? If not, perhaps you might enjoy starting a new tradition in your family. If pork and sauerkraut are not to your liking (and I admit, it’s an acquired taste but one I love), you might want think about serving Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day, 2010. Here is a recipe for you to try:
To make Hoppin’ John, you will need:
• 1 pound dried black-eyed peas
• 2 small smoked ham hocks or meaty ham bone
• 2 medium onions, divided
• 3 large cloves garlic, halved
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 cup long-grain white rice
• 1 can (10 to 14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes with chile peppers, juices reserved
• 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
• 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
• 3 ribs celery, chopped
• 1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, minced
• 2 teaspoons Cajun or Creole seasoning
• 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
• 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
• 3/4 teaspoon salt
• 4 green onions, sliced
In a large Dutch oven or kettle, combine the black-eyed peas, ham bone or ham hocks, and 6 cups water. Cut 1 of the onions in half and add it to the pot along with the garlic and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently until the beans are tender but not mushy, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove the ham bone or hocks, cut off the meat; dice and set aside. Drain the peas and set aside. Remove and discard the bay leaf, onion pieces, and garlic.
Add 2 1/2 cups of water to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the rice, cover, and simmer until the rice is almost tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Mince the remaining onion then add to the rice along with the peas, tomatoes, and their juices, red and green bell pepper, celery, jalapeno pepper, Creole seasoning, thyme, cumin, and salt. Cook until the rice is tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the sliced green onions and the reserved diced ham. Serve with hot sauce and freshly baked cornbread.
And for those wondering where on earth the name “Hoppin’ John” came from, there are a number of theories – take your pick:
1. Hoppin’ John is a corruption of the French “pois a’ pigeon” (pwah ah pee-ZHAN), which when pronounced in the Creole manner sounds very much like hoppin’ John.
2. Hoppin John was the name of a lively African-American waiter with a limp who served the dish at a Charleston hotel.
3. Hoppin’ John was a husband named John who came hoppin’ to the table as dinner was served.
4. Hoppin’ Johns were waiters hoppin’ to serve hungry dinners in John’s restaurant in Charleston.
5. Hoppin John was a lame cook who hopped up and down while cooking it.
6. Hoppin’ John was the dish served to a Carolina sea captain on New Year’s Day who was told to “Hop in, John.”
7. Hoppin’ John was the name of an old ritual on New Year’s Day in which the children in the house hopped once around the table before eating the dish.
I’m told you need a bowl of collard greens to go with your beans and rice. The greens symbolize $$$$ for the coming year. I’ll make up Hoppin John and collard greens for our New Year’s Day meal and let you know how prosperous it makes me!