There are some culinary experiences that you must have at an early age or else it is nearly impossible to have those tastes imbedded in your soul, a part of your identity that has no beginning or end. When I harken back to my childhood days, it is tastes and smells from my grandmother’s kitchen that resonate deep within me.
My grandmother was a practical cook. She grew some of what she cooked or made use of what was available to her in the local stores. She had the essentials of any modern kitchen: 4-burner stove and a double oven (really quite fancy for her day). She had a big Sunbeam Mixmaster and a percolator. She didn’t own any appliances we now think of as important, such as a microwave, food processor, or blender. She probably never heard of espresso, yet there was always a simmering pot of water in case someone wanted a cuppa instant Folgers. Instant coffee aside, grandmother was a great cook before Julia or Jacques taught the rest of us how to cut up a chicken.
My cooking roots grow deeply into that history. In the subsequent years we’ve increased cultural awareness and expanded culinary horizons by having access to fresh food from the other side of the world at our doorstep overnight. We’ve watched chefs on TV teach, compete, and entertain. We have more restaurant options. From my home, I’m within an easy walk of Thai, Salvadoran, Greek, Italian, and French eateries, not to mention burger or pizza joints.
But those early tastes and smells are the ones that call to me from a not so distant history. When I cook those foods again, I share my meal with those who first shared theirs with me.
Today is such a day. Our family (and if you are from the South you already know this) ate a heaping mess o’ black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. If you didn’t have a bowl of black-eyes, you were doomed to a luckless, miserable year. Eat the peas and you will have good luck. Eat a lot of peas and you will know joy and fortune from January to December.
It is said that there are folks from up North who think of black-eyed peas as beneath them, people who don’t really understand why such a big deal is made of eating them on the first day of the year. I cannot explain good fortune to those people, nor can I explain how their very well being depends on a particular pea. One of those people lives in my household. It is with grave responsibility that I see to his good luck every year. It is a heady responsibility, but one that I do not shirk.
So, from my home to yours, I wish you good luck and great fortune this year. But to be on the safe side, you should eat a heaping helping of black-eyed peas!