Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Civil Food Conflict

When I was growing up, my family (like most) always had a succession of memorable meals from November to January each year. This heavy dinner season (in the South dinner means the afternoon meal) of course started with Thanksgiving—a holiday that doesn't differ too much by region when it comes to the traditional menu. Then our Decembers would bring with them numerous get-togethers, from casserole-laden potlucks to finger-food festivities, culminating in our family's unique interpretation of Christmas Day dinner: Lexington, NC-style pulled pork barbecue sandwiches.

January 1 always capped off the months of indulgence with a final formal meal. One that, for us, was mostly Southern in tradition ... but with a tiny bit of Northern influence. (You see, my grandfather was from Pennsylvania. And while he ended up living most of his life in North Carolina and fully embraced Southern life and culture, he did introduce the rest of us to what we referred to as "Yankee foods.")

Our menu for that day always included the following:

Pork Roast
Mashed Potatoes
Squash Casserole*
Asparagus Casserole*
Black-eyed Peas
Green Beans
Sweet Tea

*Note that all holiday meals in my family, whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's or Easter, always involve at least one casserole.

A Southern eye will detect a few problems with my list. First of all, the black-eyed peas are served as is, not in Hoppin' John. Well, don't worry; we began adopting that dish in recent years. And, regardless, the presence of the legume in general helps ensure wealth (in the form of coins, but still).

Secondly, um ... sauerkraut. Yes, this is clearly a Yankee food—and one that was not embraced by my brother and me. Thirdly, you'll notice the absence of any type of greens. This is because the sauerkraut filled the role of that food, which traditionally means money, or cash, for the new year. In later years, we did start adding collard greens to our meal; yet, somehow, none of us ever achieved double the wealth (at least not yet). Finally, you'll see that we had rolls instead of cornbread. I'm honestly not sure how cornbread factors into good luck for the new year. And, frankly, I love cornbread but rolls are just fine too.

So there you go. That's my family's history of New Year's Day meals. Very "New South," wouldn't you say? Quite progressive of us to incorporate such an alien dish as sauerkraut, I think. Of course pork equals progress, according to tradition, so maybe that's what fueled our acceptance of Northern cuisine.

If you're interested in trying some traditional Southern New Year's dishes, Southern Living has a great line-up here. And Epicurious has an interesting article on the meanings behind various New Year's food traditions.

But whether you go traditional Southern, Northern or some hybrid of the two, we wish you a very happy, prosperous and delicious New Year!

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