Cooking Fresh: New Year's Wishes
Holiday rituals structure our lives and, absorbed by younger generations, give our families continuity and a sense of place. In the past, ritual meals have reflected the season and terroir of the region, and some of those rituals are celebrated today.
Black-eyed peas and cooked greens are no doubt still available in the Low Country South in late December, where New Year temperatures might do little to leafy greens in the garden and black-eyed peas have been picked and shucked. The associated ritual to this combination is to eat them both on New Year’s day — blackeyed peas, representing coins, and greens, standing in for folding money, bring you fortune in the upcoming year.
Whether these dishes will bring you riches in a question for the ages. But making you healthy — that is more certain. Ask any health professional what one change someone could make to become more healthful and the answer would be “eat more greens.” Beans, too, have amazing health benefits.
Unless you are the most tenacious gardener, you’re not harvesting plants at New Year. I am not a gardener at all, so I never harvest them. I have purchased in bulk from farmers — a bushel of red peppers with soft spots at the end of a season, seconds of garlic in a 10-pound bag, cases of greens that I stem, wash, blanch, squeeze dry and freeze in a 1-pound bags, a chore that could easily be added to the practice of Zen Buddhism and maybe should be.
Locally grown bell peppers, ripened on the vine to gorgeous red, are at their ripest just before they decline to rotting, which is why you often find soft spots by the stem. These red peppers are at their sweetest and most fragile. A bushel of bruised ones can be blackened under the broiler, peeled and frozen. Garlic can be roasted and frozen, or just stuck in the freezer as a whole bulb. Onions and peppers need nothing but chopping and freezing — which is great, because jalapeno plants produce scads.
These are strategies I use to eat local food through the dark months. Not a perfect system, but it’s handy to have a few things tucked away.