Today, I cooked up a big pot of collard greens with some smoked pork neck, a half-dozen tiny garlic cloves (the little ones in the center of the bud), and a touch of hot sauce. I had found the collards on sale, and purchased them, not even thinking of their significance to this season.
Collard greens (usually accompanied by black-eyed peas) are a common New Year's Eve/Day meal for persons of Southern extraction. I have a good friend from the Florida panhandle (for which FLA stands for F'in' Lower Alabama) who cooks up a pot of greens and beans every New Year's Day, and has people over to usher in the new year.
Of course, "Southern" cooking is indistinguishable from "Soul Food", the cuisine of the African-American community (slaves, and later domestic servants, of African descent did most of the cooking for white slaveowners). Perhaps the best book on African/American foodways is Hog and Hominy by Dr. Frederick Opie of Marist College. Soul Food, like all great cuisines, is rooted in frugality- inexpensive ingredients are transformed, through brilliant technique, onerous work, and, for lack of a better word, love, into gustatory masterpieces. The collard greens and black-eyed peas of the Southern sharecropper, the cannelli beans and escarole of the Italian contadino, the bok choi and soybeans of the Chinese peasant... all are the products of poverty faced with ingenuity and dignity, and all are fantastic.
Tonight, I am going to buy a bag of black-eyed peas to cook tomorrow with some salt pork I have left over from a New England clam chowder cooking experiment (wildly successful, I might say). Might as well go whole hog (literally) with my Southron feast.