Hedging our bets for a New Year of good luck, we have devised our own menu featuring a worldwide potpourri of traditionally fortunate foods. After all, why count on just one ingredient to carry the luck load?

Every culture has its own culinary enticements for prosperity, but most boil down to a list of legumes, pork, greens of any kind, fish and cakes. Our family’s centerpiece is the blackeyed pea. After all, we are sons of the South. Since the Civil War when withdrawing Northern troops stripped Vicksburg, Mississippi of everything edible but the lowly cowpea, southerners have considered them very, very lucky. We aren’t the only ones. Beans, peas and lentils symbolize money around the world— coins that expand when cooked in hopes that fortunes will too. Germans, Brazilians, French and Japanese are among the many cultures that cook up legumes to ring in the New Year. Local urban farmer Lola Daniels offers three or four kinds of fresh cowpeas at the Farmers Markets in season, so New Year’s isn’t’ the only time we will be eating this lucky dish. But, New Year’s tradition calls for a serving of one pea for every day of the year, so 365 protein rich treasures it is, each chockablock with antioxidants.

Hoppin’ John is a wildly popular southern dish using blackeyed peas and the recipe conveniently incorporates pork, ticking two lucky foods off the list. Revered throughout Europe as harbinger of wealth and prosperity, pork is admired because pigs root around, always moving forward, not to mention being rich in fat. Spanish, Hungarians, Austrians, Portuguese and Cubans consider pork an indication of good luck. I use a smoked ham hock from a Jolie Vue Farms Berkshire hog. But, I will not be making Hoppin’ John, because we are not crazy about the rice the recipe calls for—makes the dish too much like a casserole. Preferring a soupier consistency, we opt to replace the rice with more good-luck food: collard greens fresh from our own garden. Greens are considered extremely auspicious from Denmark to China, because they look like folded money. Ours are a rich, deep green—bound to be helpful in the coming year.

Fish has been considered lucky since the Middle Ages, particularly cod. We choose to go local, so nosh on Texas farm-raised catfish instead, simply broiled with a dusting of cumin and served with a squeeze of lemon. Cake always signals good luck and many traditions call for baking in a surprise gold coin to give one person an extra boost. Instead of dessert cake, we throw our charm into a sweet skillet cornbread, which you have to admit is heavenly with black-eyed peas.

This year we are pitching in a new ingredient for fine fortune: twelve fresh grapes each. Though there was some consternation to discover that drinking them doesn’t count. The idea is to eat one grape for each coming month to predict how the year will unfold. This tradition was brought from Spain and spread throughout the colonies. It’s a little late in the season for local Muscadines or wild grapes, so we have to settle for store-bought. The grapes warn us to expect a bitter February, but signal that August will be particularly sweet. Thankfully we can sweeten February with Valentine’s chocolate and add in loving dishes to soften the blow. We decide to pop in a thirteenth grape now for good measure like they do in Peru. You can’t be too careful! Wishing you and your family an excellent year of luck and local eating.

By: Gracie Cavnar