Black-eyed peas help start year off right

Posted: Sunday, January 04, 2004

AMARILLO, Texas Diners peas-fully eyed a Southern tradition on New Year's Day.

Depending on which version of Southern folklore is believed, eating black-eyed peas either fends off poverty or bad luck.

According to the Texas Depart-ment of Agriculture, black-eyed peas were the only food left after Union soldiers devastated Southern crops. Also called cowpeas, the food saved people from starvation and became a sign of good luck.

Some believe if one eats poor on New Year's Day, the rest of the year is prosperous.

"It's the tradition," said Palestine, Texas, native Ben Simms, eating with his family at Calico County. "It brings good luck, but you've got to eat them on New Year's Day."

Pat Cunningham, with wife Eleanor and daughter Ann Grand-jean, who was visiting from Nebraska, said he was superstitious.

He feared his wife would go home, fall asleep and not fix dinner, he said. "I wanted to be on the safe side."

Tom Malone of Amarillo said he grew up in Oklahoma where his mother put salt pork in the black-eyed peas and called it fatback.

Randall Decker, Calico Coun-ty's owner backed the prosperity theory and said he had prepared 100 pounds of black-eyed peas for 1,000 servings.

At the Big Texan, the peas are a daily staple. Kicked up with jalapeno and other ingredients, the restaurant calls the recipe "Texas caviar." Small cups of the delicacy served with tortilla chips are available with every meal. One of the restaurant's owners, Bobby Lee, said he had 40 pounds ready to serve.

He said the New Year's tradition is 43 years old as old as the restaurant itself. He remembers his mother a "Yankee from South Bend, Ind." pushing the tradition at home.

The King family of Amarillo celebrated two traditions at the Big Texan.

Grover Cleveland King Jr. said he was the first baby born on Jan. 1, 1926, at the old Northwest Texas Hospital and was sharing his 78th birthday with family.

"It's a deep South tradition," his wife, Doris, said.

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