Who else has heard of the tradition where you gorge yourself with collards and black eyed peas on New Years day as a good luck charm to bring in money over the upcoming year? I know I’m not the only one as evident by the yummy pictures I saw blowing up my news feed the past few days! I’ve been eating this meal every New Years Day (NYD) since I can remember and I’m not rolling in money so I’m not so sure what all the hype is about as it pertains to fortunes. Good thing it tastes yummy! I’m proud to say that January 1st, 2016 is the first year I have ever made the traditional New Year’s Day feast from scratch all on my own!
I wasn’t too honest with you all in my very first post. I nonchalantly mentioned that we had invited my parents over for Thanksgiving dinner like it was no big deal. Well, the truth is that my parents’ kitchen was undergoing a major reconstruction Thanksgiving day…and still is. The kitchen has been completely gutted as they remodel. My parents have been eating out almost every meal for over a month! It doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that you can’t even wash a dish without taking it into the bathroom!! Eekkk!
I’d been rolling around the idea of cooking NYD for a couple of weeks. I was so nervous to just bite the bullet and commit. I feel like there is SO much pressure to be perfect when cooking such a traditional meal. Especially when you grow up with Grandmothers like mine and Grayson’s. These ladies didn’t play around in the kitchen. If it wasn’t homemade, out of their own garden (or a neighbors), or from the local butcher, they didn’t want much to do with it. I figured it was time for my 28-year old self to put on my big girl panties and take over the tradition. It couldn’t be as hard as I was thinking…
I talk to my Mama every single day. I called her a few days before January 1st and she was discussing how the kitchen remodel was coming along. Stove-less, I hated the idea of them eating ham sandwiches or eating out again the first day of the year. When I asked if they would want to come eat with us, I could literally hear the relief in her voice! My brother and his new fiance would be out of town and couldn’t join us, but my parents were definitely in! As soon as I got off the phone with her, I panicked! What in the WORLD was I thinking?? My Daddy’s Mom, Matha, was the Queen of all Cooks. I couldn’t possibly live up to the expectations my Daddy would have since he grew up eating the food made by such a wonderful cook! I was starting to wonder if my Mama had felt this way when she first started cooking for him!
Oh well…the self pity boat sailed away and I had to get over it. I convinced myself I could pull it off. Worst case scenario, we ended up at a restaurant which wouldn’t be too different from how their NYD would have gone anyway!
I bought all the good stuff! Black eyed peas, fresh local collards, spiral cut honey ham, smoked ham hocks, and cornbread. I woke up at 8:00 AM on January 1st excited about my adventure!
Not everyone knows this, but black eye peas have to soak in water overnight in order for them to cook properly. The night before, I put my peas in a container and covered them until there was about two inches of water over them. About 30 minutes went by and I noticed most of the water had already been soaked up by the peas, so I added a little more. I worked on the peas first thing when I got up. I used this Martha Stewart recipe. It is very traditional and pretty simple if you ask me. A ham hock, diced onion, and garlic powder are what give these peas their delicious flavor. I let the peas simmer on low on the stove for about 2 hours until I realized I had used my largest pot and needed it for the collards. I put the peas in the crock pot to keep warm.
Next, I put my ham in the oven to heat. Ham is seriously one of the easiest meats in the world to cook. Most hams you purchase at the grocery store come pre-cooked so all it takes is following the cooking directions on the package. I heated my oven to 20° less than the recommended temperature and let it warm about 20 minutes less than recommended. It came out perfect. The last thing you want to do is to over warm it and dry it out. Remember, you can always put it back in if it is still chilly. It came with a honey glaze that I added after it came out the oven.
Next, I mixed my cornbread mix so it would be ready to put in the oven before my guests arrived. I have to admit that I grabbed the wrong mix. I meant to get House Autry Cornbread Mix but grabbed House Autry Hushpuppy Mix by accident. WHOOPSIE! Everything else seemed to be going well considering I was somewhat winging it, so I carried on. I mixed it up adding one half of a sweet diced onion. I buttered my cast iron frying pan and poured the batter in. I placed it to the side so I could pop it in the oven before my guests would arrive. If you’ve never used any of the House Autry products, I highly recommend them. The seafood breader is to die for and so is their hushpuppy with onion mix (when you are actually going to fry it lol).
Lastly, the dish I had been most worried and anxious about: collards. These bad boys also took the most prep work, so plan ahead if you plan on making them. It doesn’t sound like a lot of work, but it is. First, I put the ham hock in my pot and let it cook down a little. Basically just until it was nice and brown on each side. Then, I prepared the collards by rinsing them and removing the leafy part from the thick stem that runs the length of the leaf. Once I got to the thinner part of them stem, I left it in place because I knew it would be soft once cooked. After the stem had been removed, I rolled up each leaf and tore them into strips about 1.5 inches wide. I put all the washed, stemless collard leaves into the pot and added about a half a gallon of water and a generous amount of salt. Don’t be stingy with the salt, this is where they get their flavor! I covered them and let them boil for about 40 minutes. They have to be stirred often so all the collards get into the water to cook. After about 40 minutes, I let the lid vent so some of the water would cook off and added pepper to taste.
I glanced at the clock and it was time to put the “cornbread” in the oven. I let it bake on 325° for 20 minutes. When the timer went off, I took it out, ran my stick of butter over the entire top, and popped it back in the broiler until it was nice and golden brown on top.
My parents arrived right on time. I was excited to have them over but nervous that my food wouldn’t live up to their expectations. Oh well, I didn’t let that ruin my day. Like I said, worse case scenario, we would end up eating out.
I let my Daddy make his plate first and my Mama followed suit. I fell in behind her and Grayson behind me. We sat down and I anxiously waited to hear something…ANYTHING about how the food tasted. I decided to see for myself. I tasted the peas first. I had a secret taste of them earlier so I knew they were yummy! Smokey from the ham hock with a slight garlicky flavor. They were amazing and just like I remember my Grandma’s tasting. I knew the ham would be wonderful, so I wasn’t even concerned about that! I next tried my “cornbread.” It was really yummy too! It wasn’t the same consistency as cornbread. Because I used the wrong mix, it was much more dense. However, the flavor was still there and it was delish! I do recommend the actual cornbread mix though if you’re going to make it.
Last but not least, it was time to test the collards. Those leafy greens stared at me from their corner of the plate like we were in a boxing ring. It was as if they knew that one taste would either make or break me. I picked up my fork and placed a small amount of the leafy greens into my mouth and prepared for the TKO (Total Knock Out for those non-wrestling fans ;)) I was convinced they would deliver. I winced and took my first chew, knowing I was past the point of no-return. They were awesome! Because of all the commotion I had created in my own head, I had missed the part where my whole family raved about how wonderful everything was! I did it. I actually pulled it off AND enjoyed it!
I’d venture to say both mine and Grayson’s Grandmothers would be proud of my first NYD traditional meal if they could’ve sampled it 😉