Over the years, my family has celebrated New Year’s Day in several different states.
Each state has a different take on what to eat for the first meal of the year. When we lived in northern West Virginia, we were told to eat pork and sauerkraut (cabbage’s fermented cousin).
In eastern North Carolina, we did ham, black-eyed peas and collard greens.
Black-eyed peas symbolize wealth, as did the greens. Pork is considered a sign of prosperity in some cultures because pigs root forward, according to SpruceEats.
We’ve also added cornbread to the mix a few times, as the corn kernels represent coins. I was raised by New York-natives, so I prefer sweet cornbread, although I’m beginning to love regular cornbread.
A few natives of eastern North Carolina still eat salted herring and oysters for New Year’s. Herring was plentiful in the area until it was overfished and is slowly making a comeback. Oysters are harvested in North Carolina during the fall/winter months. The fish symbolizes luck.
History.com notes seven lucky dishes served around the world for New Year’s. I like that some of these dishes incorporate several different symbols of prosperity. I’ve included New Year’s meal recipes below.
We hope you enjoy your culinary adventures!
This Southern staple, usually a mix of black-eyed peas, rice and pork, originated with enslaved Africans in the United States in the 19th century.
The first known time the hoppin’ John name appeared in print, according to The New York Times, was in the novel Recollections of a Southern Matron in 1838. Often served with collard greens and cornbread, some food historians attribute the dish’s unusual name to a take on “pois pigeons,” French for dried peas and pronounced “paw-peejohn,” which may have sounded like “hoppin’ John” to English speakers.
Louisianans and Mardis Gras fans start the year off with a sweet ringed cake topped with colorful icing and sprinkles and baked with a trinket, such as a plastic baby, hidden inside. The lucky person who finds the trinket is named “king” or “queen” for the day.
Bakeries in New Orleans and throughout the nation start selling the treats in early January through Fat Tuesday. They traditionally are eaten on Jan. 6, known as Twelfth Night or Epiphany, the Catholic celebration of the Magi’s gifts to baby Jesus on the 12th night after his birth.
Similarly, the vasilopita, served in Greece and Cyprus, often is baked with a coin inside and is served New Year’s Day. Other versions can be found in Spain (rosca de reyes), Portugal (bola-re) and France (gateau de rois).
Tamales, bundles of masa stuffed with meat, wrapped in corn husks and steamed, have come to symbolize family, as generations often gather in the kitchen to make the labor-intensive food. In Mexico, the holiday season spans from Dec. 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to Jan. 6, Three Kings’ Day.
Soba noodles symbolize a long, healthy life. Ringing in the year with toshikoshi soba, a soup with buckwheat “year-crossing” noodles, is a New Year’s Eve tradition in Japan steeped in tradition and now practiced in the United States. The long, thin noodles symbolize a long, healthy life, and date back to the 13th or 14th century, “when either a temple or a wealthy lord decided to treat the hungry populace to soba noodles on the last day of the year.”
12 Lucky Grapes
The Spanish tradition las doce uvas de la suerta, aka the 12 lucky grapes, holds that eating 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight — one for each chime of the clock — will bring good luck in the coming year.
Each grape signifies one month. According to the superstition, failing to finish all 12 in time will mean misfortune in the year to come.
Italian New Year’s Eve feasts include one dish that is said to bring especially good luck: lentils. Round and shaped like a coin, they’re a symbol of prosperity, and are often served with pork sausage.
Fish, symbolic of fertility, long life and bounty (plus the color silver represents fortune), is a popular New Year’s Eve dish in many cultures, and especially so for those of Scandinavian, German and Polish descent.
Pork and Sauerkraut
While Southerners may dig into hoppin’ John, those in parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio savor slow-cooked pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day. The dish is said to bring good luck and progress because pigs are known to root forward, or move ahead, while sauerkraut is made with cabbage, which is tied to symbolic riches and prosperity and a long life thanks to its long strands.
New Year’s Pretzel
German-Americans who aren’t eating pork and sauerkraut on Jan. 1 are probably enjoying a special New Year’s pretzel instead. The German good-luck symbol is more sweet than savory, topped with a glaze rather than salt and often served at breakfast or brunch.
1 cup butter
2 cups white sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup warm milk (110 degrees Fahrenheit)
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup blanched slivered almonds
2 tablespoons white sugar
■ Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 10-inch round cake pan.
■ In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light. Stir in the flour and mix until the mixture is mealy.
■ Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Combine the baking powder and milk, add to the mixture, mix well.
■ Then combine the lemon juice and baking soda, stir into the batter.
■ Pour into the prepared cake pan. Bake for 20 minutes.
■ Remove and sprinkle the nuts and sugar over the cake, then return it to the oven for 20 to 30 additional minutes. Bake cake until it springs back to the touch.
■ Gently cut a small hole in the cake and place a quarter in the hole. Try to cover the hole with sugar. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes before inverting onto a plate.
■ Serve cake warm.
CHICKEN, CHILI AND CHEESE TAMALES
3 ½ cups masa harina flour
2 ¼ cups hot water
10 oz. (1 1/3 cups) pork lard or vegetable shortening, slightly softened
2 teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 poblano chiles
2 Anaheim chiles (can use jalapenos)
1 cup shredded cooked chicken
24 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese (6 cups)
1 package (6 oz.) dried corn husks
■ In a small bowl, combine masa flour and hot water.
■ In a large bowl, beat lard, salt and baking powder with an electric mixer on medium-high speed for 1 minute. In 3 additions, beat in flour mixture. Reduce mixer speed to medium-low; beat in 1 cup of the broth. Beat in additional broth until a soft, but not runny batter forms.
■ Refrigerate for 1 hour.
■ Meanwhile, place corn husks in a large container; cover with warm water. Soak husks for 30 minutes or until pliable.
■ While corn husks are soaking, roast chiles under broiler, turning occasionally, until all sides are charred. Place charred chiles in a resealable plastic bag or bowl covered with plastic wrap. Let them stand 15 minutes.
■ Peel skins from roasted chiles; remove seeds. Rinse chiles under cool water. Coarsely chop; place in another large bowl. Add chicken and cheese; mix well.
■ If desired, tear 20 (1/8-inch-wide) strips of corn husk to be used to wrap and tie each tamale before steaming.
■ To make each tamale, place 1 or 2 corn husks flat on a work surface. (If using 2, overlap them slightly.) Using a butter knife, spread about 3 tablespoons of batter to cover about 2/3 of the corn husk. Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons filling onto the center. Fold 2 edges in half lengthwise; crimp edge and tuck edges under themselves to seal. Fold bottom end up about 1 inch.
■ Working in batches, use a large steamer or collapsible vegetable steamer set in a large deep saucepan of boiling water. Place tamales, open end facing up, in a steamer. Cover; steam 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours or until tamales can be easily peeled away from corn husks.
SLOW-COOKER NEW HOPPIN’ JOHN
2 smoked pork hocks (about 1 1/4 lb)
1 ¾ cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon dried chopped onion
2 cans (15.8 oz each) black-eyed peas, drained, rinsed
½ lb. smoked sausage, cut in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
½ cup uncooked instant rice
■ Spray 3 1/2- to 4-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Place pork hocks in a slow-cooker. Add 1 cup of the broth. Refrigerate remaining broth. Top pork with onion, peas and sausage.
■ Cover; cook on Low heat setting 8 to 10 hours.
■ Remove pork from the cooker; place on a cutting board. Pull meat from bones, using 2 forks; discard bones, skin and fat. Return pork to the cooker. Add remaining broth and the rice. Increase heat setting to High. Cover; cook for 10 minutes or until rice is tender.
PORK AND SAUERKRAUT
1 can (16 ounces) sauerkraut, undrained
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
¾ cup chopped onion
½ cup water
¼ cup uncooked barley
6 pork loin or rib chops, 3/4 inch thick
½ cup prepared barbecue sauce
■ Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
■ In an ungreased 2-quart casserole or 11×7-inch glass baking dish, mix sauerkraut, carrots, onion, water and barley.
■ Place pork chops on sauerkraut mixture. Spoon barbecue sauce on top of chops. Cover and bake 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours or until pork is no longer pink in the center.