I’ve had an exceptionally lucky upbringing, I must admit. I was raised in a wonderful part of rural Maryland, received a good education and enjoyed plenty of my free time roaming the local woods,ponds and rivers fishing and hunting. However, being from Maryland also has it’s disadvantages as we don’t really have a region to call ours. After all, the state spans west to east from the Appalachian Mountains thru beautiful rolling hills towards the Chesapeake Bay and the tidewater marshes of the Eastern Shore until becoming a flat well established agriculture area hitting the Atlantic Ocean. The state has two major metropolitan regions, Baltimore and the greater Washington DC suburbs. Plus Maryland was south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the historical dividing line between free and slave states in the pre Civil War era of American History, but at the same time Maryland remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War and didn’t join its southern neighbor Virginia in secession. So basically since 1861 southern states won’t accept Maryland as their own and anyone who grew up in Pennsylvania or further North certainly won’t consider the “Old Line State” part of their regional upbringing. Thus Maryland is stuck. We are not “Yankees” but are not “Southern”, thus we are an island smack dab in the middle of the East Coast.
Now what relevance does this brief explanation have to do with Expedition Outside, fly fishing or New Year’s Day. Well because my father hailed from Alabama and I grew up country. I loved fishing for bluegill, bass and catfish with my old man. We’d sneak behind our house on fall afternoons and shoot squirrels to fry up along with food grown from the incredible garden my father raised year upon year. We’d pick and shuck butter beans, and black eyed peas all summer. Raised Kale (before it was trendy) and Collard Greens, all the time freezing leftovers for the fall and winter. Matter of fact, I pretty much considered myself a southern boy; we had bird dogs, fried catfish, whitetail deer hunted and roasted quail. I visited all the local Civil War battlefields (Antietam, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Harper’s Ferry, Seven Days, Fredericksburg…) and found myself imaging the southern rebel yell at Pickett’s Charge. It was fun and I took pride in my southern “heritage” even if I was just a Marylander.
Then I moved south to Alabama to attend college at Auburn University, “War Eagle!” But quickly I discovered most of my fellow peers on campus considered me a “Yankee,” some city boy from up North who couldn’t possibly know the first thing about fishing, hunting or southern history. It was funny how often I needed to educate these same individuals on the specifics of the Mason-Dixon Line (but that’s for another day) or that Maryland has some pretty damn good high school football (I played but wasn’t anything special), fishing and hunting. It didn’t bother me after all, I am well aware of who I was. Furthermore, I always caught more fish than them whenever we went fishing together on the local lakes or ponds.
Now I am forty, long removed from Maryland or Alabama and reside in the West, but my traditions still hold while I’ve absorbed some newer ones in my travels. I’ve always enjoyed sharing traditions or knowledge whether in fishing, hunting or cooking great meals. This post is dedicated to New Year’s traditions in cooking, personal recipes and what I’ve been told of their Genesis.
Black Eyed Peas – Luck for the Year
Since I can remember, every single year of my life on New Year’s Day I ate black eyed peas. This, to the best of my knowledge, is a strictly American Southern tradition. Natures Produce indicates Black Eyed Peas originate from Northern Africa and eventually made their way into the Southeastern United States via trade routes and because of their hardiness and easiness to store became a staple for slaves during Colonial and Antebellum times. But as with most situations in cooking history, the poor folks or in this case the unfortunate individuals held in slavery, developed the best recipes utilizing limited ingredients, trial and error which eventually cumulated in culinary magic.
My father was born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1938 and grew up in the relatively small southern town of Prattville. Almost like a rendition of To Kill A Mockingbird, my father spent his time roaming the town and spending his free time with other children who grew up in an age where kids just played around and parents didn’t worry about them returning before supper. My father told me almost every African American family in his town had a small garden patch alongside their homes primary growing peas, collards, beans, or other hardy vegetables that required little maintenance but provided substantial nutrition. Each New Year dating back to who knows when, black families ate black eye peas on New Year’s Day for good luck moving into the next year.
Overtime most of the residents of Prattville, both white and black, began growing black eyed peas particularly once the Great Depression hit the nation and many families needed to provide for themselves without money or work. I imagine over the course of many years everyone in the South began to develop a tradition of eating black eyed peas for good luck.
My father brought this tradition to my mother and I in Maryland. As with most unique aspects of the ever-changing demographics of America and constant movement of individuals across the nation, it’s basically become a national tradition as people from all over the country eat black eyed peas on New Year’s Day.
I eat black eye peas year-round, I just love ‘em. I’ve experimented with various recipes over the year. Most folks will eat the popular Hoppin John recipe on New Year’s Day which isn’t a bad start; however, I have my own simple style of cooking which I am happy to share with you.
1-pound black eyed peas (soaked at a minimum 24hrs) unless you have fresh peas which won’t require soaking
1 tablespoon bacon grease
1 pig foot or substitute ham hock (I find a pig’s foot provides a deeper flavor)
1 cup crushed red tomatoes or stewed tomatoes both work well
1 cup chopped white onion
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 cup celery
1/3 cup smoked chipotle peppers chopped – creates a nice SW flavor which I discovered living in SW Colorado
Salt and Pepper for taste – I personally like a lot of pepper but that’s for individual preference
Put all ingredients into a large pot, cover with water bring to a simmer and let it roll for a minimum of 3 hours. Adding water when necessary.
Once ready to serve, hit it each serving with a touch of red wine vinegar and add fresh diced onions if you like onions (I love them).
Collard Greens – Wealth for the Year
I am just making a hypothesis but eating some form of green vegetable on New Year’s Day must be a uniquely United States tradition. After all, our currency is green and a variety of poor immigrants brought recipes from the old country. Poor families from Germany, Ireland, England, Scandinavia and Poland brought cabbage; Asian immigrants brought Bok Choy and other delicious recipes from across the Pacific Ocean to the West Coast; and most if not all of these cultures arrived on the lower rung of the economic ladder of established America. So in order to look into the New Year with optimism about generating wealth, cheap easy to grow cabbages were cooked and eaten. In the Southern States, collards became the staple tradition – eat collards on New Year’s Day and you will become wealthy.
Now again, this is a tradition handed down from my southern father and for the vast majority of my youth I hated eating collards. In fact, I didn’t begin enjoying collards until I was in my teenage years. For the first quarter of my life, I guess wealth was not going to come my way. It still hasn’t but let us not harp on that cord.
However, now I love eating collard greens and I’ve tried just about every recipe possible. Collards are cheap to purchase and easy to grow in most climates, particularly in the shoulder seasons of prime gardening timeframes, so having fresh collards available around New Years is pretty easy whether you have grown them yourself or purchased at the store.
Early on I primary cooked collards low and slow like black eyed peas. In a large pot with bacon, ham or grease, heavy salt, butter, pepper and onions; however, this was a long process and I discovered the cooking process diminished mush of the nutritional value of the plant itself. I actually learned this from a friend’s mother from California. So now I cook collards quick and fast with few additives and ready to serve in minutes.
1 bunch of Collard Greens – trimmed from stalk then chopped
2 cloves garlic minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt & Pepper
Heat Olive Oil in a large skillet, once olive oil is hot add minced garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Stir olive oil and garlic around skillet, dump in Collard Greens. Stirring constantly for 4-5 minutes.
Hit Greens with Salt and Pepper, remove when wilted and serve.
Quick, healthy and easy.
New Traditions – Wild Game
All traditions have some beginning. For myself, my wife and friends I’ve gradually pushed eating new wild game recipes on holidays as tradition in my household. Keeping with this tradition, we will be enjoying some wild goose I shot on Expedition Outside’s private land this waterfowl season, the recipe comes from the best Wild Game Cook Book I have in my collection. After The Hunt by Chef John Folse, who I consider the best wild game chef in America. I hope sharing this recipe with you will possibly help you create a Holiday tradition of your own.
Fruit Braised Goose Breast
4 boneless wild goose breasts
Salt and cracked black pepper for taste
Granulated garlic to taste
½ cup olive oil
½ cup diced celery
½ cup diced yellow bell pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup coarsely chopped prunes
½ cup coarsely chopped dried apples
½ cup coarsely chopped dried figs
1 ½ cups dry white wine
1 ½ apricot preserves
4 cups chicken stock
Preheat oven 375 F. Season goose breast well with salt, pepper and granulated garlic. In a 6-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add goose breasts to hot oil and sauté until brown on all sides. Add onions, bell peppers, celery, and minced garlic and sauté 2-3 minutes or until wilted. Add prunes, apples, figs and cook 2-3 minutes. Return goose to pot, add wine, preserves and stock bring to boil. Cover and place in preheated oven. Bake 2 hours or until goose is tender. Remove from oven, transfer goose to a serving platter and keep warm. Place Dutch oven on stovetop over medium heat. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer 10-12 minutes or until sauté is reduced to 1 cup. Adjust seasoning to taste using salt, pepper and garlic. To serve, slice breast and top with sauce and fruit.