KINGSTON, Jamaica – Prior to New Year’s Eve 1977, I had no idea that eating a dish of black-eyed peas with pork was a good luck charm for the coming year.
That New Year’s Eve, living in my home country Jamaica I was invited by my neighbors “Mass” George Headley (of WI cricket fame) and his wife Connie to partake in the meal. I must admit it was very delicious, not too unlike stewed red-peas with pigs tail. Miss Connie was adamant that having had this meal, good luck would follow me in 1978.
I can’t really convincingly tell that it was the black-eyed peas stew that did it but I did have good luck in 1978. I wrote and directed a play that, to my pleasant surprise, won the award for Best Comedy in the 1978 Jamaica Festival; won a huge windfall on an unlikely horse that won a race at the Caymanas Race Track; and my family and I were awarded our permanent resident visa for the U.S., although in retrospect, I’m not sure if the latter was indeed good luck. But 1978 was a good year.
The black-eyed stew tradition, adapted mostly in the black community, is believed to have originated from the days of slavery in the southern U.S. Enslaved Africans and their descendants cooked the stew on New Year’s Eve as they sought luck to change their oppressed lives. After slavery, the tradition remained in the South, and gradually spread to black and other communities in the U.S. and also to the Caribbean.
Although you may not be particularly superstitious, who among us does not crave for some good luck in the future? But luck, notwithstanding this stew is a very delicious meal, and with New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day often associated with food, drink and party it would be a bonus to add this dish to the menu.
For those who do not eat pork or pork-related products for religious or other reasons, the pork and bacon can be substituted with beef or chicken. I am just not sure if the luck is in the pork or the black-eyed peas.
The following is an adapted recipe for:
Black-Eyed Peas with Bacon and Pork
1 pound dried black-eyed peas (fresh or canned black-eyed peas can be substituted)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 ounces pork shoulder, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
4 strips thick sliced bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium onion, small diced
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
3 bay leaves
Hot-pepper vinegar, as desired
If using dried black-eyed peas, put them in a large pot and cover with about 4 inches of water. Soak the peas overnight, then drain the water and rinse. Alternatively, you can “quick-soak” the peas by bringing them and the water to a boil for 2 minutes. After this, remove them from the heat, cover the pot and soak the peas for 1 hour. Then, drain and rinse the peas.
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add pork. Sear until the pork is browned on all sides, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the bacon, onion and garlic to the pot and cook, stirring, until the onion and garlic are lightly browned, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the salt, black pepper, cayenne and garlic powder. Cook until the entire mixture is coated with the spices, about 2 minutes. Pour in the stock and water and drop in the bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes.
When the pork begins to fall apart, add the prepared peas to the pot and simmer until peas are very soft, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours (see Cook’s Note).
Taste for seasonings, and add some hot-pepper vinegar, if desired. Discard bay leaves and transfer the black-eyed peas to a serving bowl.
Using the back of a spoon, smash some of the peas against the inside of the pot then stir them into the mixture. This will break up some of the peas and give them a creamier consistency. Alternatively, you can puree 1 cup of peas and broth in a blender or food processor, then return the puree to the pot.