Monday, October 03, 2005

Happy New Year, Black Eyed Peas!


Do black eyed peas have any symbolic significance to you? They symbolize different things in different cultures but are often associated with New Years. In the American South, a dish of black eyed peas and ham called Hopping John is eaten to bring good luck on New Years day. In the South black eyed peas are considered a food of poverty and eating them is supposed to promote humility. In Texas it is called "caviar" and most often symbolizes wealth and abundance. In Scotland and Great Britain the tradition of "first footing" includes giving a bowl of black eyed pea soup on New Years day to the first person to step into a house. The cook is rewarded with a kiss!

Tonight is the eve of Rosh Hashanah, which marks the Jewish New Year. The main foods I associate with the New Year are super sweet and not surprisingly are supposed to signify sweetness. A commonly known tradition is to eat apples and honey. Tastier but also very sweet is a sticky confection called Teiglach a dough rolled into balls, cooked in a ginger spiked honey syrup and dotted with nuts and cherries.

After celebrating this holiday all my life, I was surprised to recently learn of a whole set of traditional foods including black eyed peas, to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. The reason for eating the black eyed peas is that the Hebrew word for increase, sounds like the word for black eyed peas so a prayer is recited that asks that "our merits be increased".

My heritage is Eastern European so I know about traditions which come from that part of the world, but there are many Jews who come from the Eastern and Mediterranean countries like Spain and India, who have different traditions and eat different foods at holiday times. These foods are eaten in set order called a seder, which is illustrated here. The order of the items is as following:

Bread in honey
Dates
Pomegranate
Apple and honey
Gourd
Black eyed peas
Leek
Beet
Fish
Ram's head

Hard to imagine eating dinner after that! In any case I may try incorporating a few of those foods into my meal.
Happy New Year!