Southerners throughout the United States traditionally eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for luck and prosperity throughout the year ahead. Folklore dates its origin back to when Union troops waged total war upon the South. During that time, invading Northern troops typically stripped the countryside bare of all stored food, crops, and livestock, destroying whatever they could not carry away. Union soldiers did not bother with destroying black-eyed peas, also called cowpeas, because it was animal fodder.
Many Southerners on the brink of starvation discovered the spared cattle feed could sustain them. Upon learning of the Northern invasion in his home town, Parham writes anxiously to his mother on January 17, 1863…I almost shudder to hear of the condition those vile Yankees have left you in, but I hope they have left you all enough to subsist on. It is not outside the realm of possibilities that Parham’s family ate black-eyed peas during this time.
Black-eyed peas are typically cooked for New Year’s Day with pork flavoring, diced onion, and served with hot chili sauce or pepper-flavored vinegar. The cooked black-eyed peas are usually accompanied with greens (e.g. collards, mustard, or turnip greens) or sometimes cabbage. Cornbread is often on the side. Black-eyed peas represent coins, greens represent paper money, and cornbread represents gold. Some people serve with stewed tomatoes for good health. The link below has further information and recipes for black-eyed peas.