J.A. Bolton Storyteller
December 31, 2013
I hope your family will be enjoying the traditional meal of collards, black-eyed peas, hog jowl and cornbread for New Year’s Day. I thought in today’s column I would try to explain some of the folklore and customs behind the delicious meal we observe here in the south on New Year’s.
I probably need to explain what a hog jowl is. Some of our Yankee friends have never heard of this cut of pork. It’s the cheek of the hog. It tastes and cooks similar to thick cut bacon. It’s a tough cut that is typically smoked and cured. Hog jowl is used to season beans and peas or fried like bacon.
Hogs and pigs have long been a symbol of wealth and gluttony. It’s why we say “someone is being a pig” when they take more than their share. Some people believe that the more pork you eat for New Year’s, the better your luck will be in the coming year.
So why hog jowl? The short answer is that we eat cured pork because it’s winter time. Hog jowl is a cured meat which stores well over long periods and it’s always been cheap. Plus it goes well with black-eyed peas and collard greens.
Most southerners will tell you that the humble black-eye dates back to the Civil War. Black-eye peas were considered as animal feed (pea vine hay). When General Sherman’s Union troops came through, it was said that what they couldn’t use they burnt. Lucky for the south the Union Army didn’t know much about the black-eye peas, and that’s what southern people lived off of for the winter. Peas became a symbol of coppers or pennies. My folks said that for every pea you ate, it would bring you a penny. Folks say you should eat exactly 365 peas on New Year’s if’n you want enough to make it through the coming year. If you ate more it would mean you would lose one for as many days. I reckon it all goes back to making a pig of yourself.
Want to get rich this year? Here in the south, collard greens and cornbread bring in the big bucks. Collards are a late crop and are mostly grown here in the south. Heard the saying “boil them cabbage down”? The same goes for collards since it’s part of the cabbage family. The traditional way to cook collards is to strip the leaves from the stem of the collard leaves, wash several times, cut up and place them in a big pot with bits of hog jowl or a ham hock. When tender, remove from the pot and drain off the pot licker. I’ll tell you more about the pot licker in another story.
For the best cornbread, use a cup of self rising cornmeal, half cup of flour, a pinch of sugar and salt, one egg, half cup of milk and a handful of pork cracklins. Mix all the ingredients together. Grease an old cast iron frying pan and place it in an oven at 400 degrees. Cook for about 20 minutes but turn over after 10 minutes. It should come out golden brown on both sides.
I know the doctor is going to say that eating this way will run up your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, but what the heck. You need to start off enjoying the New Year. Don’t forget that pork is for luck, peas for pennies, collard greens for dollars and cornbread for gold.
Hope you have a happy and prosperous new year and don’t forget to live, love and laugh.