Monday, January 4, 2010

Monday Meals with Mincie: New Year's Traditions

Her name was Minnie Lee, but everyone called her Mincie. Minnie, as she'd be quick to tell you, was the mule and she certainly wanted no one to associate her with such a stubborn animal.

Outside Opp, Alabama, where she grew up, New Year's Day was one of celebration, reflection, and resolution. Most importantly, it was a day to be shared with family enjoying the traditional New Year's meal of black eyed peas and cornbread to ensure good luck for the coming year.

She always cooked her peas with a bit of bacon to accompany her cornbread. Some years the meal included greens, such as mustard greens, as well but not a New Year's Day passed without black eyed peas and cornbread being consumed. This tradition is one that I, as her Granddaughter, proudly continue.

According to Wikipedia, "the peas, since they swell when cooked, symbolize prosperity; the greens symbolize money; the pork, because pigs root forward when foraging, represents positive motion."

These "good luck" traditions supposedly date back to the Civil War, when Union troops, especially in areas targeted by General William Tecumseh Sherman, typically stripped the countryside of all stored food, crops, and livestock, and destroyed whatever they couldn't carry away. At that time, Northerners considered "field peas" and field corn suitable only for animal fodder, and didn't steal or destroy these humble foods. "

Mincie's Cornbread
2 cups white self-rising cornmeal *
3 Tbsp. bacon drippings (more info on rendered bacon drippings)
1/3 cup flour
1 3/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten

1) Heat oven to 425 degrees F.
2) Heat bacon drippings in cast iron skillet in oven for about 3 minutes (or until cold, stored bacon fat is fully melted). Coat pan evenly with the oil.
3) While heating bacon drippings, combine dry ingredients. Add milk and egg. Mix together until blended. Add oil and mix well.
4) Pour into hot cast iron skillet. Bake 20-25 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

*you can make your own self-rising cornmeal as follows: for 1 cup self-rising cornmeal, mix together 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3/4 cup cornmeal, PLUS 3 tablespoons cornmeal.

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