Are you ready to ring in a New Year?

I know that there are many folks who are ready to leave 2017 behind and embrace the fresh start a new calendar represents.

Our traditions to welcome the New Year are usually very simple. We attend our church’s early evening service and then go home, pour a glass of wine or two and reminiscence about the old year, our family’s recent Christmas celebration and talk about our hopes and plans for the upcoming year.

The customs used to mark the New Year in various parts of the world are very interesting to me.

For example, the song “Auld Lang Syne” is the song most associated with New Year’s Eve. It was written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns and published in the Scots Musical Museum in 1796. Auld Lang Syne means time gone by and asks us to always remember those who have been important in our lives. Canadian band leader Guy Lombardo is credited with making this song a New Year’s Eve standard. According to the website www.infoplease.com, Lombardo first heard the song sung by Scottish immigrants in his home town. When he and his brothers’ band, the Royal Canadians, performed the song at a New Year’s Eve party at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City in 1929, a tradition was born and for many of us it isn’t the New Year until we’ve heard this familiar refrain.

I also love the Japanese tradition of cleaning houses thoroughly and holding Bonenkai or “forget the year” parties where people are expected to put misunderstandings behind them and let go of any grudges between acquaintances. That’s a wonderful tradition that would certainly bring peace to the New Year.

The Dutch have a similar theme in one of their traditions. They build large bonfires on the streets fueled with Christmas trees. The fires symbolize the elimination of the problems of the old year and are seen as a way to welcome the New Year and all its possibilities.

Karla recently reminded me of a culinary tradition from the southern part of our country - Hoppin’ John. This dish consists of black-eyed peas and rice. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is considered good luck. I always thought this custom was due to the African influence on southern cuisine. However, after doing a bit of research on Wikipedia, I learned that the dish was brought to our country by Sephardic Jews who migrated to the state of Georgia in the early 1730s. The Jewish people sometimes include black-eyed peas in the Rosh Hashanah feast because in their culture, rice and black-eyed peas stand for abundance.

In the South, this traditional dish is often served with corn bread and greens. The corn bread is the color of gold and the greens are the color of money. I’m sensing a theme here! All of these foods are associated with hopes for plenty in the New Year.

I have had the following recipe for Hoppin’ John in my recipe file for many years. I have no idea where I got it because usually my recipe cards have an indication of who gave me the recipe originally and this one does not. Gregg and I haven’t eaten it on New Year’s for quite a while, but I plan to serve it for our 2018 New Year’s Day meal.

The corn bread recipe comes from my grandmother. It is easy and delicious and the perfect accompaniment for Hoppin’ John. It’s also nice to think of grandmother and the other cooks who influenced me as I enter the New Year. Making recipes from those we love who are no longer with us accomplishes just what Auld Lang Syne tells us to do.

Collard Greens are often served with this meal but the following recipe works for any sturdy green. I usually use kale because it is readily available and we like the taste and texture.

So here are the recipes for a meal that represents prosperity in the New Year for all!

Hoppin’ John

1 pound dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed

1 tablespoon oil

1 onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 meaty ham bone or 1 cup chopped smoked ham

4 cups chicken broth

1 can (15-ounce) tomatoes

1 can (5-ounce) green chilies, undrained

1 dried bay leaf

Salt to taste

Hot cooked rice

Sort and rinse peas removing any small pebbles or debris. Soak peas in enough water to cover for at least eight hours or overnight. Drain and rinse soaked peas; set aside. In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and celery; sauté about five minutes or until onion is translucent. Add garlic; sauté about two minutes or until fragrant. Add ham bone, broth, tomatoes, chilies and bay leaf. Reduce heat to simmer and stir in peas. Season to taste. Cook one hour or until peas are tender. Remove and discard bay leaf. Remove ham from bone and discard bone. Shred ham and return to kettle and stir. Serve over hot cooked rice. Recipe Note: I recently read that when you serve leftovers of this dish, its name changes to Skippin’ Jane.

Grandmother’s Corn Bread

1 cup flour

1/4 cup sugar

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4 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup yellow cornmeal

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1/4 cup shortening

Whisk flour with sugar, baking powder and salt; stir in cornmeal. Add eggs, milk and shortening. Beat with a hand-held electric mixer just until smooth. Do not overbeat. Pour into a greased 9-inch-by-9-inch-2-inch pan. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

Braised Greens

Large bunch of greens (collard, kale, beet) well-rinsed and chopped into large pieces

3 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 sweet onions, peeled and sliced into half rings

Olive oil

Sugar

In a large sauté pan, cook the bacon until brown and crispy, remove the bacon to a paper towel and drain well. Reserve a tablespoon or two of bacon grease in the pan and add a bit of olive oil. Cook the onion in the fat until lightly browned but not crispy. Add the greens to the pan. It may seem crowded at first, but just keep cramming the greens into the pan. They will cook down in no time at all. Pour a bit of water into the pan (1/4 cup should do it) and let the greens steam until tender. Taste and if the greens seem very bitter to you, add a bit of sugar to balance the flavor. I rarely salt this dish as the bacon seems to flavor it quite nicely but if the greens seem bland feel free to add a bit.

Quote of the Week

Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better man. — Benjamin Franklin

Ellen Lund

of Fremont is a freelance food columnist.

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