Peas on Earth – The Origin of the South’s Famous Black-eyed Peas

A guest post by Melissa Bennett

Most southerners know the tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. The peas are supposed to bring luck and prosperity for the coming year. Some know that this tradition dates back to the Civil War. If you don’t, find out more here.

However, hardly anyone knows the history behind the black-eyed pea. I sure didn’t. That is why I did some research and found out more. I thought it would be important to know, since I am in the “pea business”.

The black-eyed pea originated from North Africa, where it has been eaten for centuries. It was introduced to India about 3,000 years ago and was even a staple in the diets of Greeks and Romans—yet Union soldiers thought the pea was only good for cattle…

Black-eyed peas were brought from Africa to the New World by slaves. Some believe that the slaves secreted seeds in their hair or clothing just prior to departing Africa. By doing so, they would have their native, beloved food in their new home. Others believe that European and African slave traders arranged for these durable crops to be sold and traded in the New World.

Either way, black-eyed peas came to America and were first grown in Virginia during the 17th century. However, the peas were a more popular crop in Florida and the Carolinas during the 18th century and then made a greater comeback in Virginia by the American Revolution.

After the Revolution, black-eyed peas continued to be grown. In the North, they were grown for cattle and were known as “cow-peas”. In the South, they were eaten on dinner tables, right along with collard greens. After the Civil War, the peas became famous for giving the South a “second chance” and salvation, since it was one of the only food sources left after Sherman’s troops burnt all of the other crops.

Then, during the 1900s, the famous African-American agricultural chemist George Washington Carver promoted black-eyed peas as an excellent source of food for man and soil. The peas did not only enrich farm soil with nitrogen but also were an excellent source of calcium, folate, iron, potassium and fiber for humans.

Today, black-eyed peas are grown primarily as animal food and a cover crop to improve soil. However, for southerners, the New Year starts with a bowl of black-eyed peas for luck and prosperity!

This post was written by Melissa Bennett.  Melissa has joined the Peas for Prosperity team to help write posts and gain sponsorships. She is a recent graduate of the University of Georgia, with degrees in public relations and history, which will be great contributions to Peas for Prosperity! She lives in Woodstock, GA and is an account coordinator at Scholz Communications and a public relations freelancer. She loves history and is excited to learn more about black-eyed peas!

Resources:

-http://southernfood.about.com/cs/blackeyedpeas/a/hoppingjohn.htm

-Women in early America: struggle, survival, and freedom in a new world, By Dorothy A. Mays (http://bit.ly/b3Gj7v)

-http://www.foodreference.com/html/a-black-eyed-0408.html

-http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/migrations/zoofood/kipea.html

Photo credit: http://tecnoculto.com/2010/11/04/peas-on-earth/


By Christy • 11/18/2010 • 9:54 AM • Leave a comment

The New Year's Tradition

It’s a Southern Tradition to eat Black-Eyed Peas on New Year’s Day for Good Luck and Prosperity.   Black-eyed Peas symbolize wealth because they look like coins and Prosperity because they swell when cooked.   Peas are typically served with Collard Greens, which represent money, and Cornbread which represent gold. 

While most every Southerner is able to tell you WHAT they eat on New Year’s Day, few know WHY they eat these particular foods.  Of course, everyone wants Good Luck and Prosperity in the New Year but WHY (more…)

By Christy • 03/29/2010 • 3:53 PM • 1 Comment

Peas ……..they're not just on your plate anymore

Peas For Prosperity is Excited to Announce the Launch of our Eco-friendly Jewelry Line on Opening Night of the Green Shows during New York City’s Fashion Week.

The Peas for Prosperity jewelry collection is the perfect combination of Glam and Green.  The collection includes the “Lucky in Love” charm necklace, delicately embellished with black-eyed peas and sparkling crystals in shades of pink, red, and violet.  The collection also includes “The Fergie”, a show-stopper designer bracelet studded with black-eyed peas and crystals.  

Peas for Prosperity is GREEN

Well, our peas aren’t green, but our products are.  Our black-eyed peas are organic and compostable, packaged in 100% natural, unbleached cotton bags.  Recycle your PFP bag by using it at the grocery store instead of plastic or paper and load it with local, wholesome food for you and your family.

It’s perfect for storing dry goods, like coffee, beans, peas and grits, or use it as a travel bag for our eco-friendly jewelry!

By Christy • 03/16/2010 • 10:52 AM • Leave a comment

The Tradition

It’s a Southern Tradition to Eat Black-Eyed Peas on New Year’s Day for Good Luck and Prosperity in the year ahead.   Black-eyed Peas Symbolize Wealth and Prosperity because they look like Coins and Swell when Cooked.  Most Southerners Complete the Meal by Serving Collard Greens which represent Money and Cornbread which represents Gold.

Most Southerners can tell you what they eat on New Year’s Day but can’t tell you WHY!

I wanted more information.  I wanted to find out why.  I wanted to know how the tradition started.

Boy, did the answer surprise me!

To answer this question, we have to look back– far back– to the Civil War. It was the end of the War.  November 1864, known as Sherman’s March to the Sea or the Savannah Campaign; General William T. Sherman of the North and his troops marched from the captured City of Atlanta towards the Port of Savannah.  Sherman ordered his troops to strip the land of all food, crops, and livestock and to destroy anything they couldn’t carry away.  The troops followed their leaders’ orders.  The surviving Southerners were left with nothing.

EXCEPT, black-eyed peas.  The black-eyed pea supply was left completely intact.  Now, the troops did not leave these peas as some sort of good-will gesture.  They just didn’t know people could eat black-eyed peas! In the north, black-eyed peas were known as “cowpeas” or “field peas”.  Cattle ate cowpeas, people ate English peas.  Since only cattle ate these peas and the troops had already either taken or eaten all of the South’s cattle, they saw no need to destroy this crop.

The rest is history!  After the Civil War, black-eyed peas were the only source of food in the south.  The pea saved thousands from starvation.  From New Years Day 1866 forward, the tradition grew to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for Good Luck and Prosperity.

Some Quick Facts About the Black-Eyed Pea:

  • For the best chance of good luck, one must eat at least 365 black-eyed peas.
  • Many families also add a shiny penny to the pot just before serving.  When served, the person whose bowl contains the penny receives the best luck for the New Year.
  • The tradition of eating black-eyed peas goes back to the days of the Pharoah.  Eating black-eyed peas was a symbol of luck and fortune.  The belief was that those those who ate black-eyed peas, an inexpensive and modest food, showed their humility and saved themselves from the wrath of the heavens because of the vanity they might have.
  • Black-eyed peas are not peas; they are lentils!
  • Black-eyed peas are very nutritious! According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, black-eyed peas are low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and are low in sodium. They are high in potassium, iron, and fiber and a one-half cup serving of cooked black-eyed peas counts as one ounce of lean meat from the Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs and Nuts Group of the Food Guide Pyramid
  • Black-eyed peas have been cultivated in China and India since pre-historic times and were eaten by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Early records from 1674 indicate that black-eyed peas were transported from West Africa to the West Indies. They reached the Lowcountry coastal regions of the Carolinas and Georgia more than 300 years ago.

I sure didn’t know black-eyed peas were so loaded with history! Is there a tradition or story I left out? Submit a fact about black eyed peas!

Or see how Peas for Prosperity products celebrate black eyed peas and find out where to buy them!

By Christy • 03/15/2010 • 5:39 PM • Leave a comment

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