New Year’s Traditions

Let’s talk about New Year’s food traditions, at least. Maybe I’ll deal with resolutions later in the day.

Many cultures have believed that what you do or eat at the start of the New Year will affect your luck in the coming year. This started the tradition of gathering with family and friends on New Year’s eve, so that the first minutes of the New Year could be spent in their company. And if you have family or friends over, you have to have food!

Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring brings good luck, symbolizing  completion, or coming full circle throughout the year. The Dutch believe that eating a doughnut on New Years Day will bring luck. Why had I never heard of this until I started looking up food traditions???? What a great excuse for good doughnuts!

Cabbage is considered a “good luck” vegetables by some, representing prosperity, since its green leaves resemble paper currency. Pork or ham is also  a “good luck” food. The pig roots forwards (into the New Year) as it searches for food, unlike the Christmas turkey, which scratches backward (and “buries” the old year). I have spent many years cooking pork chops & sauerkraut for New Year’s celebrations.

In the south, where I moved any years ago, the pork  is added as ham or hog hocks or jowls or something I don’t really want to know about, to black-eyed peas, another “good luck ” food. The peas and other legumes, which are round, represent coins, and swell with cooking, representing an increase in prosperity. And greens, representative of green paper money, are usually added. Other legumes are considered lucky in other cultures, too, such as lentils, which resemble coins more than black-eyed peas. Rice is another “good luck” food, as it swells and grows in cooking, as prosperity in the New Year should. Sometimes all these foods are combined into a dish called Hoppin’ John.

Fish is yet another “good luck” food in other cultures, whether fin fish, lobster, crab, or oysters. I remember my grandmother cooking oysters over the holidays, including an oyster stew on Christmas Eve (not I dish I liked as a child; now I wish I had her recipe to try) and friends coming in for suppers which included fried oysters and chicken salad (probably for me, although I did grow to like fried oysters eventually). And while lobster is  “good luck” for some cultures, for others it is unlucky (because crustaceans move backwards).

So, choose something from your own tradition, but know that you can experiment with lots of other recipes when you start planning the spread for welcoming family and friends on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, and provide symbols of good luck and prosperity.

Here’s a friend’s recipe for a simple & tasty Lentil & Spinach Soup, which includes ham, too. This is my compromise with the south’s traditions, as collard or mustard greens are two of the few vegetables I just don’t like, but spinach is just fine.

Lentil & Spinach Soup: In a large saucepan combine: 1 cup of dried lentils (rinsed and sorted), 2 cups chicken broth and 3 cups of water, I medium onion, diced, 1 cup chopped celery, 1 cup chopped carrots, 2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 tsp lemon peel, 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper. Bring ot a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes. Add I cup of chopped ham, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Now, although you can add 2 cups chopped fresh spinach to the pot and serve immediately, what I prefer is to put the chopped fresh spinach into the individual bowls, ladle the soup over the spinach. Either way, garnish each bowl with parmesan cheese and serve. As with most soups, a good crusty bread is a great accompaniment.

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