Live Long & Prosper: Black-Eyed Peas as a New Year’s Tradition

Symbols of good fortune run the gamut, from ladybugs to stray eyelashes, but none are so delicious as black eyed peas. These legumes with their pale color and prominent black spot, are said to bring prosperity when eaten on New Year’s Day.

The beginnings of this tradition is hazy, but then so is New Year’s Day for most. Some believe the tradition has ties to Jewish New Year’s customs, but is likely a mistranslation. Others say Union troops during the Civil War left these Southern crops alone during their pillaging because they believed the beans were only suitable for livestock feed. But we need not worry about origins here, because anything that is typically prepared with bacon has total cred in my book.

Sacramento, it seems, is perfect for growing this most fortunate of crops since they are drought tolerant & love warm soil. The plants are relatively free of pests and disease, the planting of the crop is a boon to the soil as it imparts nitrogen to it and the blossoms produce copious amounts of nectar. Plus, when consumed, they have a high nutritional value for very little calories. I’d say black eyed peas are very lucky indeed.

While not prolific on Sacramento’s restaurant menus, you can find them in a variety of places.

Let’s start with where they are grown locally. R. Kelley Farms in South Sacramento specializes in growing black eyed peas, amongst other produce. You can order them online, pick them yourself in their fields or visit the shed which is stocked along with their current variety of other hard-to-find-fresh produce. For 40 years, Ron Kelley has been in the farming business in one way or another. He started as a “plant doctor” for other farmers, and is now operating his own farm. Ron says: “I try to plant for all the different ethnic groups in the area and there’s a lot. It seems like if I have something they can’t get elsewhere, they’ll come to R. Kelley Farms to get it”.

black eyed peas

A couple of restaurants in the area also serve up the beans, in case you aren’t up to cooking on New Year’s Day.

The Del Paso Heights soul food restaurant Jimmy’s serves black eyed peas for a song. It is recommended that you go during the daylight hours because of the neighborhood, but you need not worry, you are a luck seeker; and you safely have the world at your fingertips whatever hour of the day. Also, for the lovers of Midtown there is Magpie Cafe which is known to employ the black eyed pea in their rustic food. When I visited in late December they were offering a salad trio, one of which featured the beans beautifully.

So, for those of you who already rock their “Southern Exposure” I wish you continued prosperity. For all others, peel yourself off your sheets, brush your teeth and get some luck on the side. You know you could use it.

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