Wake County

Black-eyed peas and collard greens still tradition for many in South

John R. Pearce stands in line at the K&W Cafeteria off New Bern Avenue on Friday with black-eyed peas on his tray and collard greens on his wife’s.
John R. Pearce stands in line at the K&W Cafeteria off New Bern Avenue on Friday with black-eyed peas on his tray and collard greens on his wife’s. jalexander@newsobserver.com

As soon as the clock struck 11 a.m. – the opening time for K&W Cafeteria in the Towers Shopping Center – a line of people dashed into the restaurant to grab their 2016 New Year’s Day meal.

The meats on people’s plates varied, but almost all of them had common side dishes of collard greens or black-eyed peas – often times both.

Black-eyed peas and greens are a tradition for many people in the South. Both are said to represent luck and prosperity for the New Year.

Marshall and Ruby Morgan said they drove from the Cleveland community in Johnston County to the K&W off New Bern Avenue just to get the signature New Year’s Day dishes. Ruby Morgan, 64, said she was told growing up in Fuquay-Varina that you eat black-eyed peas and collard greens on New Year’s Day to have money through the year.

Marshall Morgan, 62, who grew up in Apex, said his parents told him the more black-eyed peas you eat, the more money you’ll have.

“I remember hearing that all my life,” Marshall Morgan said. “I just figured it was old traditions.”

Jane Woods of Raleigh said she eats black-eye peas and greens on New Year’s Day because of tradition. She was told it was for good luck.

“The interesting thing is that I’m a Christian now and I don’t believe in luck,” Woods said. “But I still do the tradition if I can.”

It’s uncertain exactly when the tradition started in the South, but Nancie McDermott, author of Southern Soups & Stews, said it began inside the home.

“It’s all over the South, that on New Year’s you want to eat field peas and greens,” McDermott said.

That means one could eat turnip greens, kale or mustard greens instead of collards, and red, crowder or lady peas instead of black-eyed peas, and still go along with tradition.

But black-eyed peas and collard greens – slowed cooked and usually seasoned with pork – are the most common and accessible of the two, and the combination has become a staple, McDermott said.

“They are signature ingredients of the African diaspora,” she said. “It’s a part of Southern culture, and the whole world has always loved Southern culture.”

The greens are supposed to represent folding money, like dollar bills, while the peas represent coins. Whether that tradition has been proven, some customers said Friday they were still uncertain of that.

“I’ve done it all my life, and I don’t see that it makes any more money,” said John R. Pearce, who had a big plate of black-eyed peas on his tray. “But it’s still tradition,” he said, taking a bite.

K&W employees had been cooking greens and black-eyed peas since early in the morning and kept at it throughout the day. General manager Bernard Gannon said the restaurant usually cooks between 40 and 50 pounds of peas and 100 pounds of greens.

“We have big kettles that we slow cook our greens in and we slow cook our black-eyed peas in,” Gannon said.

He said that in the days leading up to New Year’s customers let it be known what they expected to eat.

“We’ve been getting calls for days from people asking, ‘Are you serving collard greens and black-eyed peas?,’” Gannon said.

Jonathan M. Alexander: 919-829-4822, @jonmalexander1