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Good eats: New Year’s traditions come to table

Q. If three grocery stores sell 3,000 pounds of dried black-eyed peas for New Year’s Day, how many black-eyed peas will all the grocery stores south of the Mason-Dixon line sell?

A. Enough to sink a battleship, two times over.

That riddle won’t be found in The Big Book of Riddles but it’s a riddle no less.

Steve Garrett, owner of the Piggly Wiggly stores in Troy, said his two “Pigs” together with the  “Pig” in Brundidge sell around 3,000 pounds of the dried peas every New Year’s Day.

And, for good reasons – good tasting and good luck.

New Year’s Day is a celebration steeped in tradition and superstition.

And, whether it’s tradition or superstition, not many true Southerners will let the day go by without helping themselves to a heaping-helping of “dry peas.”

According to superstition, eating dried black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day will guarantee good luck all the year through and, that good luck will include something to eat all year long.

Patricia Garrett, who along with her husband, Johnny Garrett, was in the grocery business long enough to know there would be run on dried black-eyed-peas, turnip greens and collard greens every New Year’s Day that rolled around.

“People are going to eat dry peas so they’ll have good luck and pennies in their pockets. They eat greens so they’ll have green money or paper money and cornbread for gold in a sack,” Patricia Garrett said. “And, if you have pork of some kind, you move forward in he New Year, just like pigs root forward looking for more food.”

Steve Garrett said it’s easy to pick out the New Year’s Day shoppers. Their grocery buggies will be filled with turnip greens and collards and topped with bags of dried black-eyed peas.

“More collards are cooked on New Year’s than turnips, at least that’s what I’ve observed,” Garrett said. “And, I would guess that just about everybody that cooks greens on New Year’s is also going to have a bowl of black-eyed peas on the table.

Garrett said turnips and collards sell throughout the fall and winter but dried black-eyed peas are mainly a “New Year’s thing.”

“Most people would rather have fresh peas or at least frozen ones but at New Year’s the tradition is dried black-eye peas,” Garrett said. “After New Year’s the demand will go way down.”

“Dry peas” as most Southerners say, are selling for about a dollar a bag compared to 50 cents not too long ago.

“The price has eased up some over the last few years,” Garrett said.

Whether it’s turnip greens, collards or “dry” peas that are served on New Year’s Day, it’s the seasoning that has guests coming back for seconds.

“If you’re cooking greens or peas, you’ll probably want to cook with ham hock or hog jowl” Garrett said. “Some people cook with fatback or salt meat. Whatever kind of pork you use to cook greens and dry beans is good seasoning. You’ll want to wash the salt meat first or you might not be able to eat the greens.

But whatever you eat on New Year’s Day stay away from lobster or chicken. Lobsters can move backward and chickens scratch in reverse. Eating either could mean a reversal in your fortunes. But, if you should be craving chicken or lobster on New Year’s Day, make sure you wear red underwear to the table. It brings good luck.