Very Superstitious: New Year's Foods

Waiting for the ball to drop last year, I put a few handfuls of black eyed peas in a bowl of water to soak over night, and my Cuban friend put out 12 grapes for each of us to gobble down at the strike of midnight. We were preparing for a bountiful 2010 and working a little superstition to help it along. The black eyed peas would be turned into a delicious Hoppin' John on New Year’s Day to bring us good luck and fortune, and the grapes, if all went well, would be gone by 12:01 A.M. – one for each month, the sweeter the grape, the better the month.

Around the world, people mark the beginning of the new year with fascinating traditions, looking toward the New Year and hoping to bring more abundance to their families and communities. Here, a virtual smorgasbord of New Year’s traditions.

Hoppin' John:

There are a lot of theories on its name–some say the dish was named for a one-legged, “hopping” waiter who served it, others, that the name is a corruption of the Creole word for black eyed peas, pois pigeons. Wherever it gained its name, this New Years' favorite is a long-time tradition–it’s been around since at least 1847, when Sarah Rutledge published a recipe for “Hopping John” in her cookbook, The Carolina Housewife.

Today, Americans throughout the South and other regions ring in the New Year by chowing down on black eyed peas and collard greens just after midnight, in hopes of being blessed with financial prosperity. The greens are said to symbolize paper money, the beans, coins. Hoppin' John’s good-luck tradition is said to date back to the Civil War, when Union troops known to strip farmland of livestock and crops overlooked fields of black eyed peas, leaving behind a vital source of sustenance for surviving Southerners.

Whether or not you believe it will bring you wealth, this long-time New Year’s tradition may very well bring you health. Served vegetarian-style, minus the pork, this dish is low-fat, nutritious, and still delicious! A few good reasons to love Hoppin' John:

  • Black eyed peas . With under 2 g of fat, over 8 g of fiber and nearly 20 g of protein in a half-cup serving, these little guys couldn’t get much better for you.
  • Rice . The combination of rice and beans produces essential amino acids also known as complete proteins. Only animal products, quinoa and soy contain complete proteins on their own. But all rice is not created equal–brown rice contains fewer carbohydrates and nearly twice the fiber of white rice.
  • Collard Greens . Like its cousin, kale, collard greens are an excellent source of beta carotene, calcium and Vitamin A. Try steaming and flavoring with Bragg’s and a dash of cider vinegar.

Here is the Hoppin' John recipe I plan on using this year.

Vegan Hoppin' John from Whole Foods Market’s :

Serves 4 to 6

A steaming bowl of this thick soup is said to bring good luck for the coming year, but you don’t have to serve it only on your New Year’s menu. Tempeh bacon and vegetables add depth of flavor to simple black eyed peas and rice.

Ingredients

2 cups dried black eyed peas, rinsed
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup uncooked long grain rice
2 strips tempeh bacon, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco (optional)

Method

Put black eyed peas into a large bowl, cover with water and set aside for 6 hours or overnight.

Drain black eyed peas, then transfer to a large pot. Add 6 cups clean water, onions and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until black eyed peas are tender but still whole, about 45 minutes. Add rice, tempeh bacon, peppers, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Season with Tabasco, if you like. Ladle into bowls and serve.

Grapes

This tradition is traceable back to 1909 when there was an excellent harvest which created a surplus of grapes in Spain and the king gave everyone grapes to eat on New Year’s Eve. The grapes were eaten at each stroke of the town clock, one for each month. If you got a sour one, it could mean a sour month, but you needed to be sure to eat all twelve by the 12th stroke for good luck all year.

The tradition spread to Portugal, and eventually to former Spanish and Portuguese colonies Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador and Peru. Each country has a slight variation — my Cuban friend had us eat all 12 grapes in 60 seconds (which we all did!) and in Peru, they eat a 13th grape for good measure. In Ecuador they eat 12 grapes before midnight, making a wish on each one, and in Mexico, they eat the 12 as they do in Spain, with a wish attached to each.

As with Hoppin' John, not only do these tasty treats bring good luck to your New Year, but they are also healthy.

  • Vitamins - manganese, vitamin C, vitamins B1 & B6, and potassium
  • Heath Benefits – protection against heart disease, lower cholesterol, promote lung health, lower your risk of Alzheimer’s and more.

There are so many more New Year’s traditions around the world!

The New Year symbolizes the renewal of life and originates from the time when people would celebrate the start of the new harvest season. People all over the world have various traditions for bringing in the New Year, with many of them involving food. Below we've listed a selection of them. To turn your New Year into a sustainable one, make sure your food was produced by a local, sustainable farmer!

United States

Pennsylvania Dutch

Pork and sauerkraut are eaten on New Year’s Day.

Southern US

Eating black eyed peas is said to bring luck in the New Year. Eating greens such as cabbage, collard greens, mustard greens, kale or spinach is said to bring money, while cornbread will bring wealth.

Other parts of the World

Austria – Pork is the traditional food because a pig roots in the ground going forward. Lobster is avoided because it moves backwards – this is thought to bring setbacks.

Brazil - Lentils are generally eaten to bring good luck.

China - On New Year’s Day, a vegetarian dish called jai for good luck in the year ahead. Each ingredient symbolizes something – lotus seeds symbolize male offspring; black moss seaweed is to bring wealth; dried bean curd is to bring the fulfillment of wealth and happiness; bamboo shoots symbolize a greeting that is similar to “All the best”; and gingko nuts represent silver ingots. There are so many wonderful food focused traditions for the New Year – read more here.

Cuba - Twelve grapes are eaten at midnight, one for each month of the year.

Denmark - Boiled cod is the food of choice at New Year’s.

Germany - Eating herring at midnight is said to bring good luck. Pork is also thought to bring good luck.

Greece - Vasilopita, a cake with a coin inside of it, is eaten. The person who gets the coin is said to have good luck throughout the coming year.

Holland - Ollie Bollen, a doughnut-like fritter, is popular at the holiday.

Italy - “Otechino con lenticchie” (pork sausage served over lentils) is served in Italy. The pork is said to bring abundance while the lentils bring money.

Japan - Noodles are eaten at midnight in Buddhist temples. In addition, soba noodles are eaten by the general public for a long life, and Omochi cakes (sticky rice cakes) are eaten for good luck and health.

Mexico - Most people eat twelve grapes at midnight for good luck.

Philippines - It’s important to have food on the table at midnight in order to ensure plenty food in the New Year.

Poland - Pickled herring as the first thing on New Year’s is said to bring good luck throughout the year.

Spain - Twelve grapes are eaten, one each at the stroke of midnight, to celebrate lucky years of the past and in the hope of a lucky year to come.

Venezuela - Most people eat twelve grapes at midnight for good luck.

Vietnam - Watermelon is often eaten – the redder the flesh, the more luck the family will have in the New Year.

What do you do at your house? Have you come up with new traditions? How have you claimed the old traditions? Please share!

Happy New Year to all from the staff at GRACE!

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