Area farmers cater to New Year’s Day tradition

Dec. 28, 2013 @ 05:36 PM

Since she was a young girl, Martha Mobley has been eating collards, pork, and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.

The collards and the black-eyed peas signify wealth, she said, since the collards are green like dollar bills and the black-eyed-peas resemble coins. The pork, she said, is for luck.

The tradition of eating those three items on New Year’s Day has been passed down from generation to generation in her family, she said. Her grandparents recognized it, and so did her parents.

“My mother was a home economics teacher, both parents were from the country – that was their tradition,” she said.

While Mobley said she couldn’t pinpoint the exact origin of the tradition, she said it could have started because that’s what people had on hand at that time of year.

According to Adrian Miller, the author of “Soul Food: The Surprising Story of An American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time,” the meal came about as a result of a melding of cultures in the antebellum American South. He said he read slave narratives, old newspapers and cookbooks to research the history of the tradition of certain foods, including black-eyed peas. The book was published in August by the University of North Carolina Press.

Miller said in an email that some Scots and English people considered it good luck to have a dark-haired and dark-eyed person as their first visitor oF the day. He said that melded in the South with a West African tradition of eating black-eyed peas on festive occasions to please the gods.

The proper meal in the South should have pork, black-eyed peas for good luck, and greens for prosperity, but he also said that meanings for parts of the meal have varied regionally in the South, and so has the type of green used.

The pork could be chitlins, ham or roast pork, the black-eyed peas could be served alone or with rice, and may include a dime for a dash of extra luck to the finder. The greens could be cabbage, kale, mustard or turnips.

“One can see how an exchange of these folklore beliefs in the antebellum South led to the superstition that eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day would bring good luck,” he said in the email.

Whatever the origin of the tradition, on Saturday Mobley was working at Meadow Lane Farm’s stand at the Durham Farmers’ Market downtown, selling collards as well as pork and other items to help continue it.

The Franklin County farm, which has been a vendor at the downtown market since 2006, is a branch of a farm that’s been in her family since the early 20th century, she said.

While she said she’s grown collards in a small garden for personal use, this was the first year that the farm has sold collards at the market.

Collards can tolerate the cold, she said, adding that it’s said that the colder it gets, the sweeter they are.

“They should be mighty sweet (on Saturday),” she said.

Debbie Coleman, an intern at Meadow Lane Farm, said the farm had sold a lot of collards at the market Saturday. The pile of greens that was left at one point in the morning was small compared to what they brought originally, she said.

At the South Durham Farmers’ Market off N.C. 55, Matt Ball, manager of Down 2 Earth Farms, said he sold collards at the market to people planning New Year’s Day meals, as well as to people who wanted to start off the year eating healthy foods.

Liz Clore of Bushy Tail Farm said she brought about 20 bunches of collards to sell Saturday, while typically, she brings about five. She said she’d sold a bunch of collards on Saturday within the market’s first hour. She, too, said they get sweeter and sweeter during the year.