In a little sense, 2020 was the year of the bean.
So it seems both strange and appropriate that today, the first day of 2021, my family is eating a bowl of black-eyed peas over rice with a side of greens, just like we do every day of the world. Year.
Back in March or April 2020, I, like so many others, propped up my pantry with a bunch of beans. I ordered a can from Rancho Gordo, a magical and fantastic California heirloom bean company; I bought lentils from the bulk supply at the health food store; I grabbed a few bags of Camellia red beans from the supermarket.
The beans, I thought, would get us through. One can ignore the wolf at the door for a long time with a good supply of beans. Some members of your family may roll their eyes, but you should remind them that the reason they still have the strength to tease you is because of the courage they get from eating beans. Do not hesitate to tell them that they are, in fact, full of beans.
I’m not going to pretend that the situation here on our little farm in Virginia has never been dire. My turn to survival strategies has been mostly metaphorical, with a hint of ‘you never know’, but it was heartfelt. Faced with an uncertain future, it makes sense to acquire beans, and it’s a movement that resonates across cultures and down through the centuries.
The 11 edible seeds of the legume family known as legumes have nourished people for about 11,000 years. According to Oxford companion to food: “Drying, the easiest way to preserve all foods, is a technique particularly suited to legumes; their protein and fat content remains largely intact, while the flavor, although altered, remains good. “
I would be hard pressed to really pick a favorite out of the 11, but I can tell you that cowpea, which is what I’m going to eat today and the most common of which in America is the black-eyed pea, is the one that matters most to me.
All manner of Southerners – Black and White, High Country, and Low Country – seem to agree that eating black-eyed peas is necessary on New Years Day, but stories about why we do it vary. , and there has been a lot of talk about origin stories and how cowpea came to represent good fortune, mostly in monetary terms. The less convincing argument is that they look like coins, which can only be true for people who have never seen a coin of any kind.
Cowpea may very well have been brought to America from Africa by slaves, although it also appears to have been brought by the Spanish in the 16th century. Either way: the bean is native to Africa and has played a role in keeping African Americans alive that cannot be overstated. Black cooks deserve credit for popularizing the bean in American cuisine.
Sephardic Jews in the early American South likely played a role in cowpea’s popularity, as well as its significance, since the black-eyed pea is in the Talmud and prescribed as one of the nine Simanim to be eaten at Rosh Hashanah. They are included in the holiday meal as a symbol of prosperity and fertility.
The way I see it, the way dry peas and beans swell and grow bigger than they used to be involves a lot. They keep well, so they not only represent having enough to eat, but they themselves are enough to eat.
I’m also not entirely convinced that collard greens (or whatever kind of greens you prefer) are eaten because silver is green for the simple fact that silver wasn’t green until then. that the Union issue greenbacks to finance the civil war.
I started eating black-eyed peas on New Years Day as a Jewish kid in Virginia because my avuncular neighbor, Wally, served them at his annual lunch. He always shipped sausages from Texas – I remember Wally grinning through his beard with a Bloody Mary in one hand and grill tongs in the other, making jokes in the charcoal smoke. – and I believed for several years that the sausage was the traditional part of the meal. Once corrected, I took the tradition with me. Even if I understand that in some families, the recipes are the tradition, in mine, it is the opposite.
The traditions of the Watman family don’t come with recipes, they just are. I’m sure I’ve never done black-eyed polka dots the same way twice. There are so many variables that it almost doesn’t make sense to try and make a recipe out of them. Don’t you like pork? Use one or two smoked turkey wings. You don’t like meat? Use olive oil and put a zest of Parmesan in the pan. Want your New Year’s hangover cure to be vegan? Add some tomato paste to the onions, carrots and celery as they saute to sauté the umami.
This year, I have pork broth on hand, made with blanched bones, herbs and smoked jowl trimmings and bacon rinds that I keep in the back of my refrigerator. (This too, you can feel free to omit it. You can start with water, the likker pot will be wonderful. If you like to make broth, go for it.)
Note that I didn’t say I was doing Hopping John. Hopping John cooks the rice in the beans (don’t hesitate) and I like the separate rice, under the beans and greens.
Soak the black-eyed peas – say a cup of them – for a few hours after rinsing them and scooping them up for debris. (I have a feeling people are bored of choosing their beans for pebbles. I promise you will eventually find a stone in your beans, and it’s better to find it with your fingers than with your teeth.)
Because my smoke flavor is going to come from the broth, I’m going to use a quarter pound of salt-cured side meat instead of the bacon, but the technique would be the same. If you use bacon, use good smoked bacon, cut into pieces. Melt the fat in a large casserole dish or soup kettle, then add classic mirepoix – a mixture of a small chopped onion, a chopped celery stalk and a chopped carrot. (I often omit the carrot and celery, but never the onion.) Stir them then add a bay leaf and about a teaspoon of crushed red pepper. Add between two and ten chopped garlic cloves – you know who you are.
Pour in the beans and add enough broth or water to cover them about an inch.
Bring to a boil and let roll for about ten minutes.
A lot of people love tomatoes, and this would be a good time to add about a cup and a half of chopped or mashed. Now lower the heat and let it simmer. Monitor your stock / water level. Cowpeas should be tender after about half an hour, but black-eyed peas are unpredictable. It might be ready in 20 minutes, and it might take a little longer. While it’s simmering, prepare some rice for serving. I like a deep plate with a bunch of rice half covered in beans and half covered in collard greens, drizzled with hot vinegar sauce.
As you eat it, think about what to expect from 2021 and know that this plate brings you 365 days of good fortune.
#Start #year #foot #pot #blackeyed #peas