My family comes from Louisiana where New Year's Day means everybody eats black-eyed peas and collard greens to bring good luck for the coming year. At a young age, that intrigued me and made it seem worthwhile to reluctantly force down as many collard greens and black-eyed peas as my small body could manage. I wasn't about to take any chances!
Over the centuries, various world cultures created superstitious traditions of eating certain foods for luck - generally connected to having money, being prosperous and having enough to eat. Food, of course, meant survival. I find it especially interesting that many of these "good luck" foods are exactly those that we now know provide a wealth of good nutrition.
Here are some of the "luckier" foods:
All over the world, cooked greens are eaten on New Year's Day. This is because green leaves are reminiscent of folded money and so became a symbol of economic good fortune. The more you eat on New Year's, the greater your wealth in the coming year. How very true from a nutritional point of view - and that's no superstition! Greens are a super food - packed with a wealth of good nutrition from vitamins to minerals to powerful antioxidants. You can try this Hearty Greens Soup
as a meal or these Sautéed Greens with Garlic
The Germans (my ancestors) ate plenty of pickled cabbage called sauerkraut; the Danes ate stewed kale sweetened with cinnamon and sugar; and the southern folks in the U.S. (more of my ancestors!) cooked and ate the collard greens. Did you know that cabbage was a commonly used slang word for money in the mid-twentieth century? It's still heard occasionally today and is acceptable as a substitute for collards in Texas.
: In many cultures, small beans, peas and lentils are symbolic of coins and are believed to bring financial rewards when consumed. This is another great example of a good luck food that's super lucky for you when it shows up on your dinner plate! Legumes are packed with soluble fiber, good protein, low glycemic carbohydrates and an array of vitamins and minerals.
In Italy it's the custom to eat lentils with sausages after midnight. In Germany, pork and lentils or split peas are a common good luck meal. In Brazil, lentils and rice or lentil soup is the first meal to celebrate the New Year. In Japan, black beans are eaten at the first of the year. Here's a lucky recipe for French Lentils with Onions and Carrots
In the U.S., during the Civil War the town of Vicksburg, VA, ran out of food while under attack. Apparently, the residents of the town discovered black-eyed peas and thereafter the legume was considered a lucky food. Some believe you should eat at least 365 black-eyed peas, preferably before noon on New Year's Day, to ensure good fortune for each day of the coming year! Hoppin' John is a famous black-eyed pea and rice dish that sometimes contains pork. A favorite dish for observing this tradition in the South, sometimes a small coin buried in one portion and whoever receives it is singled out for special good fortune. Here's the perfect dish for good luck this New Years Day - Black Eyed Pea Soup with Collard Greens
: Pigs are a symbol of progress. In Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Hungary and Austria, a hearty roast suckling pig is served on New Year's Day. The Germans love pork sausage and in Sweden, pigs feet are often served. Because of its rich fat content, pork is a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Even pork can be healthy. Go for lean cuts, like in this Cranberry and Apple Stuffed Roast Pork
: In Spain in 1909, a tradition began to eating twelve grapes at midnight - one grape for each stroke of the clock. The practice spread to Portugal, Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador and Peru. Each grape represents a different month; if one of the grapes happens to be bad or sour, it means the corresponding month in the coming year will be the same. There's no doubt grapes are really good luck when it comes to good health - they've got antioxidants, fiber and vitamin C. If you're eating grapes for good luck this New Year's, you may want to try these Blue Cheese and Walnut Dusted Grapes
Isn't it interesting that some of the luckiest foods we have honored for centuries are truly some of the healthiest foods we can eat? Here's hoping that your new year will be better than the past. Got a special tradition your family observes on New Year's day? I would love to hear about it.