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!
-Women in early America: struggle, survival, and freedom in a new world, By Dorothy A. Mays (http://bit.ly/b3Gj7v)
Photo credit: http://tecnoculto.com/2010/11/04/peas-on-earth/