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January, 2009

A Good Luck Comfort Food

By Dennis Linden

The mystical qualities of blackeyed peas have been celebrated by several civilizations.

Blackeyed Peas
The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt believed eating this simple food would bring them the humility needed to rule a populace who considered them gods. Blackeyed peas are referenced as a symbol of good luck in Babylonian scrolls written some two thousand years ago. Today, blackeyed peas are the main component of a traditional dish served on New Year’s Day called Hoppin’ John, which has a history dating back to the mid-1800s in the Deep South when many believed it would ensure financial wellbeing for the coming year.

While some may take issue with these superstitions, there is no disputing the culinary attributes of this richly flavorful food. The blackeyed pea can be utilized much like any other legume. Its texture and taste has a creamy, pleasantly earthy essence that seems to build warmth from within with every spoonful. It truly has a comfort food flavor that should be enjoyed all year long, which has now been made much easier with Melissa’s Blackeyed Peas. They are presoaked and take only about ten minutes to cook.

The prominent place that blackeyed peas hold in American Southern Cuisine got their start as an economical foodstuff used by sea captains in the slave trade. The slavers purchased the dried form of these peas from merchants on the African coast to feed their captive cargo during the long ocean voyage to the Americas as early as the 1600s. Gradually, blackeyed peas were assimilated into the kitchens of the Deep South until it became the quintessential symbol of this region’s “cuisine” as we know it today. It is a versatile ingredient that adds a special flavor to soups, salads and stews or can simply be served as a delicious side dish.

The most popular approach to enjoying blackeyed peas is to sauté them with onion, some kind of pork product and seasonings. Add rice to that simple formula to create Hoppin’ John. To ensure the financial good fortune referred to earlier in this article, it is said that kale or turnip greens must be added to this recipe. Hmm, considering these troubled economic times and the comforting effect of this wonderfully delicious dish, it might be a good idea to extend the traditional time period for enjoying this dish beyond New Year’s Day. There is no doubt that a big bowl of Hoppin’ John is guaranteed to make anyone feel hopeful about the future, at least when it comes to anticipating each comforting bite!