Celebrating New Year’s Day is one of the oldest occasions throughout history. Whether the festivities fall on January 1 of the Gregorian calendar or some other day may depend on culture, but the symbolism of renewal is powerfully entrenched.
Posted by Rae Lynn on 12/26/2013
There are many traditions, superstitions, and other unique practices that have survived the ages with the intent of bringing good luck and fortune for the coming year. Your New Year's Day menu is a key part to the day’s festivities and starting the year off right.
We have collected some traditional New Year’s food selections and feature recipes with a tasty twist on the regional favorites of the American South.
Food Categories & Meanings1
- Greens: to bring good economic fortune in the coming year
- Grapes: 12 grapes are eaten before the last stroke of midnight, one for each hour and each month of the year
- Pork: hope for forward progress, because the pig roots forward while the cow stands still and fowl scratches backward
- Fish: often featured at winter feasts because it was traditionally the easiest protein source to preserve and transport
- Legumes: symbol of riches in the coming year, as peas/lentils resemble small coins and swell when cooked
- Round cakes: represent the unbroken continuity of luck and good fortune from one year to the next
In addition, it is considered polite and a sign that you are not greedy to leave the last bite at every meal, especially New Year's Day to avoid bad luck in the coming year.
New Year's Day in the American South2
In Rae Lynn’s home town of Nashville, Tennessee, folks regularly invoke the New Year’s Day menu traditions of the American South. But, for readers who have yet to experience the realm of flavorful Southern cooking or who are just out of touch with their cultural culinary heritage, here is a brief tour of our southern traditional
New Year’s Day selections.
- Greens: Collard greens or cabbage; represents a billfold of green paper currency
- Pork: pork belly, fat back, pork roast, ham hocks, or hog jowls; traditionally the cheapest cuts of meat, representing frugality
- Legumes: “Hoppin’ John” or other dishes featuring black-eyed peas to bring good luck
- Cakes: Hoe cakes or corn bread; the golden color symbolizes wealth
The custom is to eat 365 peas, one for each day of the year to bring prosperity and luck throughout the coming year. But we suggest adding an extra spoonful just in case the fates are feeling generous! Place a dime under each bowl at the table setting for a traditional flourish.
Hoppin’ John in its simplest form is a black-eyed pea stew incorporating meat seasoning and rice. Originally a dish of the “Low Country” in coastal South Carolina, it has become a signature dish of the broader American South.
It was inspired by West African cuisine and shares many similarities with dishes of that region. A Caribbean variation of Hoppin’ John known as “Hoppin’ Juan” features black beans from Cuban cuisine.
Emeril’s Easy Hoppin’ John3
Total time: 1 hr 5 min
Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 50 min
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large ham hock
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup celery, chopped
- 1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed
- 1 quart chicken stock
- Bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon dry thyme leaves
- Salt, black pepper, and cayenne
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
- 3 cups steamed white rice
- Heat oil in a large soup pot.
- Sear the ham hock on all sides for 4 minutes.
- Add the onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic, then cook for 4 minutes.
- Add the black-eyed peas, stock, bay leaves, thyme, and seasonings.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the peas are creamy and tender, stir occasionally.
- Add more water or stock, if the liquid evaporates.
- Adjust seasonings.
- Garnish with green onions and serve over rice.
The meat du jour of New Year’s Day is pork, and traditionally the cheapest cuts: pork belly, fatback, ham hocks, or hog jowls, but pork roast and ham are more modern versions.
Sretna Nova Godina (Happy New Year) Pork Roast4
This recipe takes a page out of the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of serving sauerkraut as a menu item and combines it it with a Croatian twist on a pork roast for a truly delectable and luck-inspiring dish.
Cook time: 4 hr
- 6 lb center cut pork rib roast, tenderloin or chops
- 1-2 cans (27 oz) sauerkraut
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoon butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoon flour
- Season the pork with salt and pepper.
- Roast in the oven at 350 degrees F until just brown, about 1 hour.
- Pour the Zapraska roux (recipe below) over the roast.
- Cook for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 145 F and the gravy has a nice flavor.
- Drain the sauerkraut in a strainer.
- Pour one can of water over the kraut to rinse off some of the strongly flavored brine.
- Spread the kraut over and around the pork.
- Add enough water for 1” depth.
- Cook 1 hour at 325 degrees F until golden brown.
- Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan.
- Add 1 tablespoon of salt.
- Whisk in 3 tablespoons of flour, stirring constantly.
- Simmer for about a minute.
- Measure liquid from the roasting pan to measure 1 cup. Add water, if needed.
- Slowly stir liquid into butter & flour.
- Let it bubble until thickened, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
Kickin’ Collard Greens5
If you are looking for a tasty recipe to dress up lucky New Year’s Day collard greens, look no further. This flavorful version is spicy and salty, inspired by Louisiana Creole cuisine.
Total time: 1 hr 10 min
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 1 hr
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 slices bacon
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 pound fresh collard greens, cut into 2-inch pieces
- Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.
- Add bacon, and cook until crisp.
- Remove bacon from pan, crumble and return to the pan.
- Add onion, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
- Add garlic, and cook until just fragrant.
- Add collard greens, and fry until they start to wilt.
- Pour in chicken broth, and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
- Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes, or until greens are tender.
Hoe cakes are a southern essential inspired by a Native American staple. They are named for the way they were prepared, by quickly cooking cornmeal batter on the flat of a metal “hoe” held over the fire.
The addition of buttermilk and bacon grease imparts substance that is likely to be “nontraditional” but reflects the modern evolution of “down home” cooking. These delightfully crispy cornmeal medallions will certainly start the year off right!
Paula Deen’s Hoe Cakes6
Total Time: 20 min
Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 15 min
Servings: 17 hoe cakes
Refrigerate batter up to 2 days.
- 1 cup self-rising flour
- 1 cup self-rising cornmeal, or from a mix (recommended: Aunt Jemima's)
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon grease
Oil, butter, or clarified margarine, for frying
- Mix all ingredients, except the frying oil, into a batter.
- Heat the frying oil or butter in a medium or large skillet over medium heat.
- Drop the batter, by full tablespoons, into the hot skillet. Use about 2 tablespoons of batter per hoecake.
- Fry each hoecake until brown and crisp an each side.
- With a slotted spatula, remove each hoecake to drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
Share your traditional New Year's Day Menu and what it means to you.