January 05, 2010


Did you know that, on January 1st, certain foods are eaten to bring luck during the upcoming year? This practice, started centuries ago, is one which does not leave everything up to fate. The traditions vary from culture to culture, but are generally connected to having money, being prosperous and having enough to eat. Some of my more interesting findings follow.

Legumes: In many cultures, small beans, peas and lentils are eaten - not only do they resemble coins, but they swell up when cooked, just as you would want your fortune to swell. There are some who believe you should eat at least 365 black-eyed peas, preferably before noon on New Year’s Day, to ensure good fortune for each day of the coming year!

In the Southern United States, it's a tradition to eat Hoppin' John, a combination of black-eyed peas and rice – in fact, this is the most popular New Year’s Day necessity in the United States. Folklore has it that the town of Vicksburg, Virginia ran out of food while under attack during the Civil War. The town residents discovered black-eyed peas; because of this discovery, the city did not starve or fall and was able to fight on for the cause.

Cooked Greens: All over the world, cooked greens (such as cabbage, collard greens, mustard greens, kale or spinach) are eaten on New Year’s Day. This is because green leaves look like folded money and have become a symbol of economic good fortune. It is believed that the more greens you eat on New Year’s, the greater your wealth in the coming year.

Cornbread: In the Southern United States, cornbread is eaten because its color is representative of gold. As per the old Southern expression, "peas for pennies, greens for dollars, and cornbread for gold".

Pork: The custom of eating pork on New Year's is popular worldwide. Many cultures believe that eating a fat pig may translate to increased riches or a fat wallet in the New Year.

But the most popular reasoning is that the pig symbolize progress since the animal pushes forward, rooting itself in the ground before moving. In contrast, it is believed that lobster and chicken should be avoided on New Year’s Day. Lobsters move backwards which could lead to setbacks; chickens scratch backwards, which could cause regret or dwelling on the past.

Fruit: In Spain in 1909, the tradition began of eating twelve grapes at midnight –one on each chime of the clock.. The practice spread to Portugal, Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador and Peru. Each grape represents a different month; if one of the grapes happens to be bad or sour, the same will be true of the corresponding month in the coming year. For most, the goal is to swallow all the grapes before the last stroke of midnight, but Peruvians insist on taking in a 13th grape for good measure.

The pomegranate's many seeds symbolize prosperity; thus, this fruit is eaten throughout the Middle East to insure fertility and abundance. Figs are a symbol of fertility.

Noodles: As the clock strikes midnight in Japan, long soba noodles are slurped up to ensure a long life. Those who can swallow at least one of them without chewing or breaking it are supposed to enjoy good luck and a long life.

Fish: Many cultures eat fish on New Year’s Day. Some believe forward swimming schools of fish symbolize progress and abundance, while others believe their shiny silver scales represent wealth and prosperity. Herring is consumed at midnight in Poland and Germany for luck in the upcoming year. Germans also enjoy carp and have been known to place a few fish scales in their wallets for good luck. In Japan, herring roe is consumed for fertility, shrimp for long life, and dried sardines for a good harvest. In China red fish is served with the head and tail attached, representing a good beginning and end to the coming New Year. But in Hungary, fish is avoided on New Year’s to ensure that your money doesn’t swim away.

Round or Ring-Shaped Foods: Many cultures believe that round or ring-shaped foods will bring good luck as they are symbolic of the year coming full circle. Round or ring-shaped foods include cakes, bagels, doughnuts, and cookies. Many cultures serve round baked goods with coins or other trinkets baked inside. The person who receives the piece with the coin or trinket will have a lucky year ahead.

In Greece, a special round cake called vasilopita is baked with a coin hidden inside. At midnight or after the New Year's Day meal, the cake is cut, with the first piece going to St. Basil and the rest being distributed to guests in order of age. It is believed that the person who bites into the piece of cake with the coin will have good fortune throughout the upcoming year. The cake recognizes a miracle thought to have happened in the Ottoman Empire. According to legend, a Bishop of Greece recovered a large portion of the country's riches back from the Ottomans but, when he tried to redistribute them, the people fought over the property. It is believed that Saint Basil asked the women of Greece to bake a cake with the riches inside - when he sliced the cake, the goods miraculously found their way to their proper owners.

(Sources: www.epicurious.com, www.shopwiki.com, www.fabulousfoods.com)

We’ve chosen a cookie recipe to share this month that should be extra-lucky – it has a round shape and contains beans! The recipe is from the cookbook "From the Queen's Kitchen". Permission to reprint the recipe has been granted by Adobe Milling in Dove Creek, Colorado.

(White Ribbon 1982 by Amelia Jacobs)

1 cup OLEO
1 cup WHITE SUGAR (less 1 Tbsp.)
2 well beaten EGGS
2 cups FLOUR
½ tsp. SODA
½ tsp. SALT

Combine together oleo, sugar, brown sugar, and the egg. Sift together flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Add creamed mixture to flour mixture, then add 2 cups cooked and well drained PINTO BEANS. Drop by spoonful onto cookie sheet. Bake at 400° for 12 to 15 minutes or until desired brownness is reached.