New Year’s comfort food

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According to tradition, New Year’s Day supper will bring you fortune in the year to come.

At the Roberts home on Elm Street in Paris, New Year’s Day dinner was probably the most unpopular of the year — at least for my sister, brothers and me.

Our mother subscribed to the New Year’s tradition to eat ham and cabbage to celebrate the new year. The ham — pork — with its rich, delicious fattiness has come to symbolize wealth and prosperity. Pork was once reserved for the elite. It is a symbol of forward moving, so the more you eat for the New Year the more prosperous you will be.

The green cabbage represents (what else?) money.

In Germany, Ireland and parts of the United States, cabbage is associated with luck and fortune since its green hue resembles money. The Roberts side of the family — thanks to the Kileys — bring the Irish tradition for us. Personally, I always thought the whole cabbage being associated with prosperity was something dreamed up by cabbage farmers.

Before serving the ham and cooked cabbage, she placed quarters, dimes and nickels in the pot. While Mom said finding money in your serving meant prosperity for the coming year, I always figured the money was a bribe for us to just take one bite, as she cajoled us.

Southerners, however, have a number of meals to celebrate the new year, each representing wealth, health and prosperity.

According to Southern traditions, you will have good luck for the entire year if you have the traditional New Year’s Day supper. That means a meal of greens, Hoppin’ John, corn bread and potlikker soup.

Potlikker is traditionally the flavorful liquid left behind after boiling greens such as collards. In the recipe I’m sharing here, smoked sausage, onion and roasted red bell pepper are added to impart even more flavor. The mixture will cook on low for five to six hours, creating a wonderfully fragrant and utterly delicious one-pot meal.

If you like a little spice, serve with hot sauce. Browning the sausage in a skillet before adding to the slow cooker gives the entire recipe a delicious smoky flavor. If you’re looking for an easy and impressive veggie to serve with your main meal, this potlikker recipe makes a hearty side dish that we know everyone will love. Potlikker can transform into the main attraction by serving with white boil-in-bag rice for a meal that will leave your family completely satisfied.

Nothing soaks up fatback, pottlikker soup or pork tenderloin like a chunk of cornbread. A staple in a Southern supper, cornbread is especially important on a New Year’s Day. The color is considered to represent gold. Eating it is thought to bring you spending money in the prosperous new year.

For deeper pockets, toss in some corn kernels. Representing nuggets of gold, the kernels will make you that much richer in the eyes of tradition. Growing up, I never realized there was anything other than the sweet Jiffy cornbread we ate. Moving to the South, however, you quickly learn you’ll be called a Yankee if you serve sweet cornbread. Southern cornbread is an acquired taste — at least for me — but I’m sharing the skillet cornbread recipe we used. This is a very forgiving recipe and an excellent one to play with. Try stirring in 1/2 cup jalapeños and cheddar for a spicy version or throw in some kernels as I suggested earlier.

There are several different thoughts on why black-eyed peas have come to symbolize good luck. In America, the prevailing folklore dates back to the Civil War era, when black–eyed peas — also known as field peas — were used to feed grazing cattle. During the Siege of Vicksburg, Miss., in the late spring of 1863, the town was cut off from all food supplies for nearly two months. The people were close to starvation and resorted to eating the crops previously reserved for feeding their livestock. If it weren’t for the lowly “cowpeas” — as they’re also known — many people wouldn’t have survived.

Black-eyed peas are the basis for Hoppin’ John, also a traditional New Year’s dinner in the South. This recipe calls for a ham hock but chopped smoked ham works just as well.

Finally, if you want to make it easy on yourself, I recommend this black-eyed pea cornbread casserole that requires only 10 minutes preparation and is ready to serve after 1 hour in the oven. It’s perfect if you don’t want to miss any of the parades or football games on New Year’s Day.

Why not start a tradition this New Year’s Day? It will be something your children can pass on to their children.