I grew up having black-eyed peas for New Year’s day for good luck in the new year. My grandmother was originally from the hills of Tennessee and moved to southeast Missouri as a young girl. Everyone I know that grew up in southeast Missouri has 'em on New Year's Day. It is a Southern tradition to have black-eyed peas to usher in the New Year.
History of black-eyed peas
Black-eyed peas were first domesticated in West Africa and widely grown in Asia. The "good luck" traditions of eating black-eyed peas for the New Year go as far back as Babylonian times (2500 years ago). The tradition then was to have bottle gourd, leeks, black-eyed peas, beets, spinach, and dates as they were all symbols of good luck.
This Jewish tradition was brought to the southern US in the 1700’s. Today, the good luck Southern meal includes peas for prosperity, mustard greens for money, and pork for moving forward. Cornbread is also part of the meal, but just for its sweet goodness.
George Washington Carver encouraged the planting of black-eyed peas because they fertilized the soil, are nutritious and very affordable. Black-eyes peas are chock full of nutrition. They contain protein, calcium, vitamin A, and lots of fiber.
Recipe for your good luck peas
To cook black-eyed peas, I add some ham and diced onion and simmer in chicken broth. You can add vinegar or some hot peppers for a different taste.
Growing your own peas
Black-eyed peas are a warm season crop that is not susceptible to pests or disease. They are not actually a pea at all, but a bean. The peas should be planted after all danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm. They are very drought tolerant so little watering is needed. I start mine indoors in April and set out around Memorial Day.
If using just for fertilizing, legumes should be cut before they start producing pods as the seeds use up a lot of the nitrogen fixed in the roots.
A side benefit of growing black-eyed peas is that the flowers produce copious amounts of nectar for pollinators, like bees. Be sure to not use any pesticides on your black-eyed peas as they will kill the bees, too.
For fresh peas, you harvest the beans when the pods are 2-3” long and the peas have begun to swell. After harvesting, simply shell the peas into a freezer bag (don’t forget to label with type and date).
For dried beans, wait until the pods have dried completely on the plant. Pick the pods and shell. You can easily store in a quart jar until needed.