In the classic fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk, a young boy trades the family cow for some magic beans. His mother is furious because milk from the cow is their source of income. She takes the beans, which she thinks a con artist fooled her son over, and throws them out the window. But it turns out they really are magic beans that grow stalks so high that Jack climbed all the way to giant's home full of treasures. Did you know that beans really do have a long history of being lucky and even sacred?
Beans were so prized as a food associated with survival that they were sometimes used as currency. Red kidney beans are a staple around the world and were even held to be so sacred in ancient Egypt that eating them was taboo. Black-eyed peas are the traditional lucky bean for the New Year in Southern US culture. This practice originates from a combination of African-American and Anglo traditions.
New Year's day isn't the only reason beans are celebrated. Other beans associated with general good luck are red, white, black beans and peas. You can include any of them as part of your holiday meal. Brown beans are also carried as good luck charms.
Ideas for bean dishes and traditions for the New Year
You can incorporate any of the traditions mentioned into your New Year's celebration or create your own. Serving beans with greens and cornbread is popular here in the US. Greens such as collard, mustard or cabbage are used at this time to symbolize prosperity.
While I love traditional cornbread, I also like to make either a sweet, savory or spicy version. Add these variations to the batter before baking more or less to your taste:
- Sweet: Add 1/2 to 1 cup of corn and 2 tablespoons of honey.
- Savory: Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of your favorite savory spiceódill, chives, onion flakes, etc.
- Spicy: Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt or chili powder or add a small can of green chilies or a chopped up hot pepper.
Kachin, Denise Breslin. Give the Lowly Legume a Hand. Philly.com, November 1986, http://articles.philly.com/1986-11-05/food/26094452_1_white-bean-pork-and-beans-mexican-refried-beans
Yronwode, Catherine. Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic: A Materia Magica of African-American Conjure, Lucky Mojo Curio Co., 2002.