Expectations are high. Intentions filled with optimism have been set, and thanks to a self-imposed period of cocooning at home after Christmas, they are matched by a renewed energy level that is almost visible. Despite a track record of spotty resolution execution: 1.2 lbs. lost instead of twenty; three bestselling documentaries purchased, dutifully attempted and set aside (while any trashy novel captivates me like a shiny, irresistible object), I remain resolutely optimistic. This will be THE year.
And it will be, for the things that matter. My life will be filled with abundance on each of its 365 days. I happily take this fact for granted, knowing that I have done my part. On January 1, 2019, I, along with countless African Americans, ensure a successful year by connecting to our ancestors and partaking in our holy trinity: black-eyed peas, pork and greens.
Black-eyed peas are said to bring luck. Whether these legumes derive their power from the belief that they were all that slaves had to eat to celebrate on January 1, 1863, the day the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, or from the same sentiment that fostered the centuries-old tradition of celebrating Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) with their consumption, black-eyed peas on the first day of the year are a must.
Pork connotes prosperity. Pork, and its “lesser” cuts – pig’s feet, ham hocks, chitterlings – are staples of the traditional African American diet. On New Year’s Day, they are symbols of abundance and progress, similar to that of roast pork and pork dumplings in other cultures. The idea of a pig signifying forward thinking due to its inability to turn its head without turning its entire body, is one that makes me smile.
Greens attract green. Perhaps the most literal of all the holiday’s iconography are leafy, late-season greens. The inclusion of greens on the table (cabbage in many cultures), portends easy access to wealth in the new year. If, unfortunately, you missed the lucky window for 2019, worry not. Even if they may no longer guarantee $1,000 earned with each mouthful eaten, greens are a wonderful treat, no matter when they are enjoyed.
3 bunches of kale or other greens
Quart (32 oz) box of unsalted chicken stock
Small yellow onion, diced
½ cup brown sugar
⅛ cup white vinegar
Red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
A 1” x 2” strip of fatback (optional)* or a dash of olive oil
Sauvignon blanc or any white wine you have on hand (optional)
Heat half the chicken stock in a large pot. Boil fatback in water until tender – approximately 5 minutes. Let cool slightly and cut into small pieces. Rinse greens well. Separate leaves from tough center spine and cut into small pieces with kitchen scissors. Add to boiling stock. Add onion, brown sugar, vinegar and fatback. If not using fatback, add a dash of olive oil. Sprinkle red pepper over pot. Lower heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes. Stir. Greens will cook down considerably. Add half of the remaining chicken stock. Continue to cook, adding stock as necessary. If you run out of stock, add wine. Proportions should be greens with some liquid (pot liquor, the best part!) not a soup. Taste, adding salt, pepper and adjusting seasonings to taste. Greens are done when they are easily chewable, about 20 -30 minutes.
*Since fatback is not always readily available, I ask the butcher to put it aside for me a few days before I need it. It is doubtful that you will be able to find a piece that small. Fatback lasts for 3-6 months in the freezer when well wrapped.