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Friday, January 4, 2019

Eating your way to good luck

Growing up in Chicago I don’t think I ever heard of a black-eyed pea let alone ate one. And we had ham but not on New Year’s Day. I remember my folks had oyster stew on New Year’s Eve. It was their own romantic tradition, and I was grateful to be allowed to decline gracefully. (Today I love oysters, raw, fried or baked, but not in stew, thank you.)

Of course, in Texas, I was confronted with the ham and black-eyed pea tradition, although it was several years before I succumbed. And then I was sort of tentative about it—unable to envision a pot of peas, I made Hoppin’ John, that mix of black-eyed peas, ham, tomatoes, onion, rice, and whatever else you throw in the pot. Because of my brother, the kids call it Hoppin’ Uncle John to this day.

But I moved on, until these days I insist on ham and a pot of peas. Christian suggested one of the small hams groceries carry, but I held out for—and bought—a bone in, butt half ham. We debated about the peas, and I would have been perfectly happy with canned. Christian grew up on Trappey’s canned peas, but the stores were out this year. So he came home with four cans of Bush’s beans, which he announced we could season, and a lb. of dried peas, which I had earlier volunteered to cook. Neither one of us cared which we used, but friend Sue solved it by saying, “Give me a can. We’re having northerners as guests tomorrow.” I laughed—Sue the Canadian speaking about northerners as if they were foreigners!

So, I spent New Year’s morning cooking peas which as you know is more work than you think. I parboiled them; them I had to dice up the salt pork (next time, a ham hock, please) and slice the onion, peel the garlic, and brown the whole thing. Finally put the peas in, added some pepper, thyme, and bay leaves, made six cups of chicken broth from concentrate, and sent the whole thing in for Christian to simmer while I napped. (He had to add more broth.) The peas were delicious, and guests were still talking about them two days later. I think the broth made a difference, and though I had doubts about thyme and bay leaves, you couldn’t taste them and yet I think they added to the flavor.

We served six adults and two teens with the ham and of course have a whole lot left over. So what do you do with leftover ham? I made scalloped potatoes and ham—a hit, even with Jacob. Here’s my quickie method (remember that I’m the one who scorns prepared foods—you may laugh at me now).

Scalloped potatoes and ham for four

1 can cream of mushroom soup

½ cup milk

5 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced thin

1-1/2 cups diced ham

1 medium onion, chopped (I didn’t have an onion and used four scallions—three would have been plenty)

1 tsp. pepper

1 cup grated cheddar (optional)

                Stir together the soup and milk. In a greased dish, layer potatoes, ham. Sprinkle pepper lightly over each layer (you should get two layers). Pour half the soup mixture over first layer; repeat.

Bake in toaster oven at 325 for 90 minutes or until potatoes are soft. This gets a nice, browned crust on top. I added the cheddar for the last 15 minutes, but it really wasn’t necessary. In fact, it kind of melted into that good crust and got lost.

I think the big thing about this recipe is using the cream of mushroom soup. I’ve made scalloped potatoes over the years—one of my boys loved them—but I never got them quite right. The sauce was too runny, the potatoes underdone. This came out just right.

So have you ever heard of eating lettuce on New Year’s to bring lots of money—the green stuff, I  presume—your way?

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