Welcoming the new year with creative cuisine

  • Bannock, or a small oat cake. For the Recorder/Tinky Weisblat

  • Black-Eyed Peas. For the Recorder/Tinky Weisblat

For the Recorder
Published: 1/2/2020 9:34:14 AM
Modified: 1/2/2020 9:33:53 AM

I love the idea of the New Year — even though I know that celebrating it in January is from Julius Caesar, the brainchild. He named the first month of the year after Janus, the two-faced Roman god who contemplates both the past and the future.

Caesar’s creation of the New Year may have been a construct, but it is a useful one. Almost two millennia later, we look to both the past and the future in this season. 

At the turn of the year, we have the leisure to think about our lives; winter is slower than summer and gives us time for reflection. We have hope, embodied by the increasing light in the sky; the days are just now beginning to get longer after their nadir on the winter solstice.

I don’t make a lot of New Year’s resolutions; they never quite seem to stick.  I do take time on Jan. 1 to reach out to friends and wish them luck and happiness in the year to come, however. Wishes for others are invariably more satisfying than those I make for myself.

And of course, I try to serve appropriate foods to friends and relatives.

The New Year enjoys a number of culinary traditions, both in the United States and abroad.

Perhaps best known is the Southern practice of serving black-eyed peas with greens and cornbread. This lucky combination supposedly conveys prosperity in the coming months: the peas represent pennies, the greens paper, money and the cornbread, gold. But even if the eater and cook don’t get rich, this combination always satisfies my family in early January. The stew-like nature of the beans makes them hearty and warming.

In Spain, the New Year is welcomed by eating 12 grapes. Each grape conveys luck for one of the months to come.

In Greece, a lucky pomegranate is smashed on the front door. 

Elsewhere, in many Asian countries, long noodles are considered auspicious for the New Year. In order to bring a long life to their eater, the noodles must not be cut during cooking.

In Scotland, the New Year is celebrated in an extended holiday of food and drink, Hogmanay. It begins on New Year’s Eve and lasts until Jan. 1 or Jan. 2. It started centuries ago as a rowdy post-solstice celebration among Scotland’s Viking invaders. Hogmanay is a major festival in Scotland these days, not unlike July 14 in France. A Scottish website, Hogmanay.net, documents many of the contemporary celebrations and offers some history. According to Hogmanay lore, for example, the New Year will be prosperous if a dark stranger is the first person to cross one’s threshold in the New Year. The stranger is supposed to bring a token gift, often a lump of coal to keep the fire warm. The homeowner reciprocates with refreshments.

A typical refreshment offered is a bannock — a small oat cake. 

I’m writing this late in 2019. It’s unlikely that a dark and handsome stranger will cross my threshold as Jan. 1, 2020, falls. It may snow — it often does at this time of year — and my neighborhood tends to be geriatric so any handsome stranger who actually makes it up my steep hill will probably be silver-haired.

A girl can hope, however. And if the stranger shows up, I’ll have plenty of food for him. If he doesn’t, my family will eat well.

Below, I offer a few recipes I plan to serve in the New Year. The black-eyed peas are my own version of that classic dish. The bannocks are from the kitchen of food writer and teacher Terri Pischoff Wuerthner, who lives in California and specializes in Cajun and Acadian cuisine.

The final recipe, peanut soup, is frequently associated with Kwanzaa, which ends on New Year’s Day. Kwanzaa celebrates African-American history and culture. It was African-Americans who introduced the peanut to our shores and first made peanut soup, so the dish is appropriate to the holiday.

The soup recipe comes from a terrific new book by Toni Tipton-Martin titled “Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking.” Tipton-Martin tries to do justice to the full range of Black American cuisine; it includes recipes from freedmen and contemporary chefs as well as traditional “soul” food.

Happy New Year — and happy eating.

Black-Eyed Peas

1 pound dried black-eyed peas

a small amount of extra virgin olive oil or bacon fat for sautéing

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 10-to-14 ounce can tomatoes with green chiles

1 large ham hock

extra smoked sausage, chopped and lightly sautéed (optional)

4 cups chicken stock

1 cup of water

2 teaspoons chili powder

A few sprigs of fresh thyme or a pinch of dried thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and sort the peas, and soak them in cold water. Ideally, they should soak overnight, but a couple of hours will do if you’re in a rush. Drain them when they have finished soaking.

In a 4-quart Dutch oven heat the oil or bacon fat, and use it to sauté the onion, garlic, and celery over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the beans, tomatoes, pork, stock, water, and seasonings. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring to make sure it is well blended. Skim off as much of the bean scum as you can. 
    Reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer the mixture for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until the peas are tender. (The best way to determine this is to taste them!)

Remove the ham hock. Tear its meat into shreds and add the meat to the pot of peas, discarding the fat and bone.

Serve with rice, greens, and cornbread. This stew is best served the day after it is made. Serves 8 to 10 generously.

Terri’s New Scottish Bannocks

Courtesy of Terri Pischoff Wuerthner

I call these bannocks “New Scottish” because according to Terry Wuerthner this version of the Scottish treat comes from Acadia, a.k.a. Nova Scotia. They are a solid, oat-y concoction best eaten warm. Bannocks are tasty eaten for breakfast or with a cup of tea at any time during the day.

1 tablespoon corn oil or soft butter

2-1/4 cups flour

3/4 cup rolled oats (use “old-fashioned” oatmeal, not instant oats)

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

3/4 cup salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled

1/2 cup water (more if needed)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a pie plate with the tablespoon of oil or butter.

Combine the flour, the oats, the sugar, the baking powder, and the salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the melted and cooled butter just until mixed.

Add the water, and stir just until the mixture is blended. If you overmix, the bannocks will be too heavy. “Small lumps are okay as long as the flour is absorbed into the dough,” says Terri.

Spoon the batter into the pie plate. Lightly flour your hands, and gently pat out the dough to make it even. Score the dough with a knife into 8 wedges to make cutting easier when the bannocks have baked.

Bake the bannocks until they are a light golden brown and slightly darker around the edges, about 30 minutes. Cut the baked bread into 8 pieces and serve them warm with lots of butter and maybe a little honey, jam, or syrup. (My family prefers them with just butter.) Makes 8 bannocks. 

Jubilee Peanut Soup 

Recipe courtesy of “Jubilee.” Copyright 2019 by Toni Tipton-Martin. Photograph copyright 2019 by Jerrelle Guy. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter

½ cup minced onion

1 teaspoon minced garlic (about 1 clove)

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup natural peanut butter (unsweetened)

1 quart chicken stock 

1 cup heavy whipping cream

Salt and black pepper

Hot pepper sauce (optional)

Crushed roasted peanuts, for garnish (optional)

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until it is sizzling. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until translucent but not browned, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and use a whisk to stir it together; this will take about 30 seconds. Whisk in the peanut butter until softened and smooth.

Gradually whisk in the chicken stock and bring it to a very gentle simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook the soup very gently for 20 minutes to thicken and marry the flavors, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

Stir in the cream and let it gently heat up to your desired serving temperature. Do not overheat, or the oil might separate. Season to taste with plenty of salt, black pepper, and hot pepper sauce (if using). Serve sprinkled with crushed peanuts as a garnish, if desired. Serves 6 to 8. 

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.

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