What do you eat on New Year’s Day?

The answer to this question seems to divide Kentucky almost cleanly into its eastern and western halves.

Around here, the answer from older folks is likely to be black-eyed peas and hog jowl.

This tradition dates from the Civil War. These peas generally were used for animal fodder, so when Union soldiers raided Confederate stores, they left them behind. Feeling fortunate to have been left anything, Southerners ate them, flavored with the pork that soldiers hadn’t found in remote smokehouses, and survived.

Thus their association with luck began, and you must always start a new year with something lucky.

Parts of eastern Kentucky were settled more often by Germanic people. Their traditions included eating cabbage, usually sauerkraut, and pork on New Year’s. It was flavored with caraway seed, which counteracts the effects of the cabbage. Sauerkraut was medicinal, much like kimchi is for Koreans.

Archaeologists have found peas in 9,500-year-old Neolithic sites. About 7,600 years ago, they were being domesticated – planted rather than found.

In 1573, Thomas Tusser gave us the rules for sowing:

“Sow peasen and beans in the wane of the moon,

Who soweth them sooner he soweth too soone,

That they with the planet may rest and arise,

And flourish with bearing most plentiful-wise.”

Sweet peas didn’t make an appearance until the 17th century, when they were hybridized by Dutch gardeners. Louis XIV’s queen complained, “The princes want to eat nothing but peas!”

Pennsylvania Germans planted “Pisum” under Gemini, hoping for double pods. Never count the peas in a pod, by the way, or the crop will fail.

Peas fix nitrogen in the soil, which benefits succeeding crops. They are good companions for corn, beans, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes. They do not get along with chives, gladiolus, grapes, onions or late potatoes.

A curious bit of folklore says that peas and beans grow the wrong way in their pods during leap years. To bring prosperity to a business, shell some peas on the premises.

In Buckinghamshire, England, warts were cured by rubbing each with a green pea, which was then wrapped in paper and buried. As it decayed, the warts would vanish.

If a kitchen maid found a nine-pea pod while shelling, she would put it on the door lintel, saying these words:

“Come in my dear

And do not fear.”

The next man to enter would marry her. In the language of flowers, the pea says marriage and fertility.

As we have just observed the holiday season, allow me to wish you “Peas on Earth.”

– A reference librarian, Lisa Karen Miller has been gardening and researching plant lore for many years. Have plant lore to share? Email lisalisa13131313@gmail.com.

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