Menu for Good Luck - Black-eyed Peas, Cornbread and Love

| January 11, 2010 | 2 Comments

“Better eat your black-eyes!” my mother would say. “You don’t want to go into the new year without some for luck.” I have been enjoying bowls of black-eyed peas with cornbread for as long as I can remember and they were always served on New Year’s Day. Mind you, it was served throughout the rest of the year too. Beans and corn are not only a very nutritious but together offer a high quality protein along with fiber. Most importantly, they are simply delicious when slowly simmered with onions and a smoked ham hock in a flavorful stock.

Black-eyed Peas with Smoked Ham Hock

My last post has lingered with me in a gentle evoking way. I have been recalling past food memories that are all tied together with love. Both my parents lived on farms when they were young, and their attitudes about food deeply influenced my life as well as the lives of my sisters, Marlene and Wanda. My mother, Evie Price, fed us simple, nutritious food everyday. She also set quite an elegant table for Sundays and special occasions. Her table would have all the extensions installed, a special table cloth, her china and, most important, her sterling silver that she purchased piece by piece with money she earned from sewing and childcare. She left her silver to me with instructions to enjoy it. I do and am very grateful. Rubbing it with polish to restore the patina is always an act of love.

She made two kinds of cornbread. One was the traditional buttermilk cornbread baked in either a cast-iron skillet or a cast-iron cornbread mold which turned out plump sticks of cornbread shaped like corn-on-the-cob. The other one was “fried cornbread”, sometimes called hot water cornbread. These were cornmeal patties made from white cornmeal, boiling water, some baking powder and a little sugar and salt. Once the batter was ready, it was formed into golf ball sized balls and then flattened with your wet hands and fingers into patties. Visualizing these with my mother’s hand prints conjures up warm, loving feelings.

One of my mother’s self-indulgent pleasures was leftover cold cornbread crumbled up into a tall tumbler which she filled with cold buttermilk. With a tall slender iced-tea spoon, she would slowly withdraw into her simple pleasure. One of my last memories of her was me slowly feeding her this one last time. I’ll never forget the look of sublime satisfaction on her face. I finally tried this simple treat last year and surprised myself by enjoying it.

New Year’s Day was always an open house for family and friends and the table was laden with other pleasures as well. A baked ham, potatoes, some turnip or collard greens and various cold salads such as potato, macaroni or green pea and there was always a substantial bowl of one of my favorite condiments, chow-chow for the beans. Oh, and there were pies, pecan pies. A generous slice of pecan pie is the best chow-chow chaser.

Chow-chow is a popular Southern pickled relish made from cabbage, sweet onions, peppers and spices. The name probably comes from the French word for cabbage, chou. For me chow-chow is to black-eyed peas what cream gravy is to chicken-fried steak — you know, love and marriage, horse and carriage…you can’t have one without the other!

Well, I did have to go without the other this year as I innocently believed I had one remaining jar of Mrs. Renfro’s Hot Chow-Chow on my garage pantry shelf. I didn’t! I immediately placed a call to her in Fort Worth but learned that the only way to have it by New Year’s Day was to fork over an additional $39 for special 2nd-day air delivery. I opted to allow my order to slowly make its way to the PNW by UPS. Anyway, chow-chow isn’t part of the luck or good fortune arrangement.

If you arrive on my doorstep for whatever reason and you’re bearing chow chow, expect some splendiferous pampering while you’re here. (My shipment is in so we’re having New Year’s again.)

Black-eyed Peas with Smoked Ham Hock
Inspired by childhood memories

  1. 1 pound (454 gr.) dried black-eyed peas.
  2. 1 smoked ham hock
  3. 1 medium-size onion
  4. 2 ribs of celery, finely chopped
  5. 1-2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  6. Oil or fat for sautéing onions*
  7. Chicken stock, enough to cover peas and ham plus more as peas absorb liquid.
  8. 2-3 pickled jalapeños, finely minced plus about 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) of the pickling juice (optional)
  9. 1 teaspoon (5 ml.) Mexican oregano, crumbled
  10. 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) dried epazote or 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) fresh (can be found in stores that feature Mexican foods)**
  11. 2 bay leaves
  12. Salt and fresh ground pepper***
  13. A few dashes of Tabasco to taste

* Bacon drippings would be wonderful and authentic if you want to go there. At my stage of life, I use vegetable oil to absolve the sin of the ham hock.

** I actually found some fresh, although somewhat wilted, epazote at a little mercado on State Street near Lancaster. A quick bath in some ice water laced with white vinegar revived it. In addition to flavor, it is supposed to make beans less windy.

*** Remember that the ham hock will be salty so add salt wisely.

  • Pick through peas to remove any stones or dirt and rinse with cold water in a colander.
  • Place peas in a large bowl and add cold water to cover an inch (2.5 cm.) or so. You may need to add more water as the peas expand.
  • Heat the oil or fat in a Dutch oven large enough to hold everything.
  • Sauté the onions until soft, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the chopped celery and continue cooking for a few minutes.
  • Add the garlic and continue stirring for about 1 minute
  • Add the ham hock.
  • Drain the peas and add to the pot along with the chicken stock to cover by about an inch (2.5 cm.).
  • Add the oregano, bay leaves, epazote, fresh ground pepper to taste, jalapeños and juice, Tabasco and bring to a boil.
  • Lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 1½-2 hours or until peas are cooked. the longer you simmer, the deeper the flavors will develop, just keep the peas covered with liquid.
  • Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary.

Note: The above is my basic go-to stock recipe. However, when I’m standing in front of that simmering pot, I’m prone to tumping in (Southern talk) any number of things, like a splash of the nearest flavored vinegar that catches my attention, a tiny squeeze of tomato paste from a tube, a squirt of Worcestershire, a pinch of another spice but always in such small quantities as to not be obvious but just add a subtle layer of flavor. Some cooks call these their “secrets.” For me it’s just impulse.

Serve with cornbread and some spicy chow chow.

Makes six generous servings

Note: Like many slow-cooked dishes, this gets better with age, so make an amount adequate to satisfy you for awhile. This freezes too but expect the texture of the peas to become softer. The flavor will still please you.

Fried Cornbread
Adapted from a Southern Living recipe

Fried Cornbread

Make this at the last minute so you can serve it hot!

  1. 2 cups (480 ml.) white cornmeal (yellow if you can’t find white)
  2. ¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml.) aluminum-less baking powder
  3. 1¼ teaspoon (6¼ ml.) salt
  4. 1 teaspoon (5 ml.) sugar (optional. Some Southern traditionalists would assume a French culinary attitude and slap you if you added sugar to corn bread. Me, I like it.)
  5. ¼ cup (60 ml.) half and half
  6. 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) vegetable oil
  7. ¾-1¼ cups (180-300 ml.) boiling water
  8. Vegetable oil for frying the patties
  9. Softened butter
  • Combine the cornmeal, baking powder, salt and sugar (if using) in a bowl. Add half-and-half with 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) vegetable oil and stir to combine.
  • Add the boiling water gradually while stirring until mixture is the consistency of a soft dough that will hold a shape.
  • Allow the mixture to cool until you can handle with your hands. (it will be hot.)
  • With wet hands, form into large golf-ball size balls then flatten into patties.
  • Heat ½ inch (1¼ cm.) vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan. (Cast iron would be terrific.)
  • Fry in batches until lightly golden, about 3 minutes per side.
  • Remove to a paper towel platter to drain and serve with softened butter.

The recipe as written on the Southern Living site offers variations on this recipe, such as country ham, bacon-cheddar and Southwestern style. There is also a method for baking this recipe but I would expect a softer texture.

Bon appétit, y’all

— Charles

Tags: , , , , ,

Category: Soup

About the Author (Author Profile)

Music, food and photography are at the center of Charles’ life. He performed with the Dallas Symphony, Dallas Opera and was assistant principal bassoonist with the Fort Worth Symphony for more than 20 years. When Charles and Victor moved to Baltimore, Charles created Lone Star Personal Chef and Catering Service and taught cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma. Now in Salem, Charles is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Mountain West Real Estate, taught cooking classes for children at the A.C. Gilbert Discovery Village, and owns and operates Charles Price Photography. Charles and Vic enjoy entertaining and frequently host dinners as fundraisers for local non-profits and charities

Comments (2)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Karen Stafford says:

    Charles, what fun to read this! We have perpetuated the tradition, having black eyes every New Years for good luck. With corn bread. Though I’ve never had chow-chow, so now I have a something new to try next year. I thoroughly enjoy reading your entries to this site!! Karen

  2. Charles says:

    Karen, thank you so much. We’re both getting a lot of enjoyment out of researching, cooking and writing about it. The photography is fun too. Charles

Leave a Reply