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Southern food rooted in tradtion and family

Now that the hustle and bustle of Christmas is over, most folks are looking to the next big holiday — New Year’s.

With that day comes many traditions, food being one the biggest.

Traditional southern dishes often include black-eyed peas, greens of some kind, either turnip or collard, and pork — each food represents luck for the new year.

Black-eyed peas when dry resembles coins, greens are associated with paper money, corn bread often represents pocket money or spending money and is the color of gold and pork symbolizes positive motion because pigs root forward when foraging.

As with any cook, Southern cooks have specific ways of cooking their New Year’s feast. It’s usually a style passed down through family tradition.

Kathy Jefcoats, crime reporter for the Clayton News Daily, has been serving up her southern fare to her husband, Phillip, for more than 30 years.

While following tradition, she has modified how she cooks to her southern family’s taste buds.

“A lot of people swear by hot sauce on greens but Phillip would not eat them that way. Others roast a ham with brown sugar and pineapple or with vinegar. He likes it plain only,” Kathy said. “Seasonings for ham, black-eyed peas and collards are completely subjective and best left to the diner’s taste. It depends on taste, how they were raised, where they were raised, things like that.”

Kathy who was born is St. Louis and moved to Macon in her early teens said she had never cooked or eaten the southern New Year’s foods before marrying her Mississippi-born husband.

“So much of mine is just trial and error and knowing what Phillip likes and doesn’t like,” she said.

After spending many years perfecting her New Year’s dishes, Kathy is offering up her recipes, while still acknowledging that each cook has a different spin on what they consider southern dishes.

For her pork dish, she gets a fully cooked, smoked semi-boneless ham and roast it in a cooking bag, prepared according to the package, which includes a little bit of water. Usually takes about three hours to heat through.

Black-eyed peas and greens are made in a slow cooker.

“I get a one or two pound bag of dried peas, depending on how many folks are coming over. For greens, stores sell them in bunches so, again, buy according to how many are eating. Once the greens get hot, they cook down in size to nearly nothing so don’t let the amount fool you,” she said.

For slow cookers:

Black-eyed peas

1 or 2 pounds of dried peas, depending on number of diners

Water to cover the peas by a couple of inches

Chopped Vidalia or sweet onion (optional)

Dry seasoning of choice, to include salt, pepper, garlic salt, ham-flavored seasoning and onion salt (optional for all or some)

Bulk seasoning of choice to include ham hocks, crumbled fried bacon or smoked turkey leg

Prepare the peas for the slow cooker, according to the package. Cook covered and on low until peas are tender, which could be six-eight hours. Scoop out about a cup of peas and mash them before returning them to the pot to give a creamy smoothness. If there is too much water, scoop out water before returning the peas or it will remain too soupy.

Serves 6-12, depending on appetite

Collard greens

Three bunches of greens

Salt, pepper, garlic salt, onion salt

Ham hocks, smoked turkey leg, and/or crumbled fried crispy bacon, depending on taste

Put the trimmed greens and seasoning in the pot and cover with water. The leaves will cook down a lot once they get hot so don’t be fooled by the initial amount. Cook covered and on low until the greens are tender, which can take six-eight hours.

Many southerners consider pot likker — the juice created by cooking the greens and seasonings — a delicacy. Those who do generally sop it up with cornbread, which is a must side dish when serving ham, black-eyed peas and greens. Southern-style cornbread is always cooked in a black iron skillet.

Serves 6-12, depending on appetite.

“The most important thing to remember about cooking greens is rinsing and trimming the leaves from the center stalk, Kathy said. “The first time my mom, who was raised in St. Louis, cooked these was after I married my southern husband. She didn’t rinse or trim the leaves because she didn’t know. That became a family joke for years. You only want the soft parts of the leaves in the pot because the stems will not cook tender.”