In the Smokies, New Year’s Day is celebrated with rest, relaxation and home cooking. Here in Gatlinburg, our favorite meal on New Year’s Day is black-eyed peas with hog jowl, greens and corn bread.
If you ask around town about why this is such a popular New Year’s meal, you will hear different answers. Some will tell you that if you “eat poor on New Year’s Day, you will eat rich all year.” Others will say that the black-eyed peas represent coin money, while the greens represent paper money. The bottom lines seems to be that this meal conjures hope for prosperity in the new year. Here’s what to cook:
Hog jowl is a fatty part of the pig that is perfect for seasoning beans and peas. Most of the time you must slice the hog jowl yourself. Slice it to 1/8-1/4 in. thick, then fry it just like you would bacon. It will turn out a bit tougher than your average bacon, but it still tastes salty and good.
Since one of the criterion for this meal is for all ingredients to be cheap, buy a bag of dried black-eyed peas. Rinse the peas in cold water and throw out any peas that look deformed or overly brown. Drain the peas, then throw them directly in the hot grease left from frying the hog jowl.
Allow the peas fry in the hog jowl grease for a few minutes, until the peas are browned and completely coated. This will give them a nice flavor. Move the peas out of the grease into a sauce pan. Add just enough water to cover the peas, then cook them over medium low head until they are the desired consistency. Stir often, and add water as it evaporates, always making sure the peas are just covered.
Many purists swear collard greens are the only appropriate greens for a New Year’s Day meal, but this simply is not so. Many children and those not raised in the south will shun collard greens, but this does not mean all is lost. A nice salad can take the place of collard greens if you prefer not to eat them.
However, if you do want to cook collards, simply rinse the leaves, then cook them in a pot full of boiling water for about 10-15 minutes. Drain the greens.
In a frying pan, sauté the greens in 2-4 tablespoons hog jowl grease (if any is left—if not, olive oil or butter will do fine). We like to add a pinch of garlic and a dash of salt, but this is completely optional.
Finish off your New Year’s meal with your favorite corn bread. We have several favorites—the first is available on the bag of fresh corn meal bought from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This corn meal is stone-ground the old fashioned way by historic mills in the park. This allows a rich flavor unlike any found in a grocery store.
For those of you too far away to buy a bag of the local corn meal, buy a bag of the freshest corn meal you can find and follow the Great Smoky Mountain National Park recipe anyway. Here is the recipe printed on the bag:
Does anyone have a favorite recipe to share? Feel free to tell us in the comments below.