According to many cultural traditions, New Year’s Day supper will bring you good fortune in the year to come. Traditions vary by culture, but there are pockets of striking similarities and six major foods: grapes, cooked greens, lentils, pork, fish and cakes.
In Spain, revelers consume 12 grapes at midnight, one for each month. For economic prosperity, people munch on cooked greens, as the folded leaves of kale, collards, chard and cabbage look like money. Germans enjoy sauerkraut and the Danish eat stewed kale sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
Here in the States, the Southern favorite is cowpeas or black-eyed peas in a dish called Hoppin’ John. Like greens, the legumes, dried peas and beans, also are symbolic of wealth. Their small, seed like size that swells with cooking resemble coins, thus they are eaten with financial rewards in mind.
My friend Judy Gervais, who has branches of her family both in Aroostook County and New Brunswick, Canada, introduced me to the French custom of enjoying split pea soup. For many years, on New Year’s Day, our two tribes would enjoy skating and then rendezvous for an early supper. Noses and cheeks pink with cold, adults and children both were warmed with the hearty soup while we toasted to good fortune in the new year.
Split Pea Soup
- 2 cups green or yellow split peas
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 carrots chopped
- 2 cup pieces celery or ½ cup chopped celeriac
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 ham bone or ham hock
- ½ tsp both dried thyme and marjoram
- sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
- Put the split peas in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Pick them over, discarding any that are discolored. If desired, soak them overnight with enough water to cover by 2 inches. Drain the split peas. Add the peas and remaining ingredients to a heavy soup pot or the bowl of your slow cooker. Add water or stock to cover the vegetables by 3 inches. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer until soft. This will take about 10 to 12 hours on low in the slow cooker, and 2 to 3 hours on the stovetop or wood stove. Remove the ham bone and bay leaf. Season to taste with sea salt and fresh pepper. If a very smooth texture is desired, the soup may be pureed in the food processor or blender. This soup freezes well. Add more water if necessary when reheating.