Georgia on My Mind

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Today at the office, we were talking about traditional Rosh Hashanah food. Black-eyed peas, primarily as a Sephardic custom, came up.

Funny, I thought. That’s what we eat in the South on New Year’s Day for good luck. Slashfood writes that the little legumes are eaten below the Mason-Dixon line because “they are thought to symbolize wealth (because they look like little coins when cooked). They also swell when they are cooked, which is another sign of prosperity.”

I didn’t even realize it was a Jewish custom, until I reread our article on home customs. Black-eyed peas are likely the ruviah:

A number of other food-based rituals can also enliven the home celebration of Rosh Hashanah. Sephardic communities have developed a Rosh Hashanah seder, which revolves around the eating of symbolic foods and the recitation of prayers that transform these foods into wishes for the coming year.

Many of these prayers are based on Hebrew puns involving the food in question. For instance, the prayers before eating a date (tamar in Hebrew) includes the phrase “yitamu hataim”–may the wicked cease. Before eating pumpkin or squash (k’ra’a in Hebrew), Sephardim say “yikaru l’fanekha z’khuyoteinu”–may our good deeds call out our merit before you.

Other symbolic foods include leeks and onions, which are associated with the exodus from Egypt; beets, whose Aramaic name “silka,” similar to the Hebrew “salak”–go away– is used to express the hope that our enemies disappear; and peas or beans, mentioned in the Talmud as “ruviah,” a word that sounds like the Hebrew “to increase,” and therefore indicates a desire for increased blessings in the new year. (MORE)

Black eyed peas Rosh Hashanah foodSo how did the syncretism with Southern culture take place? There is some evidence that the original Jewish population in Georgia, which landed in 1733, was dominated by Sephardim. Some of their customs made it into mainstream culture, such as eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s.

For an outstanding recipe, check out this black-eyed pea salad, done by our new associate editor Tamar Fox.

Posted on September 23, 2008

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