Basically, you are going to take what was once a very large meal, and make it into a two bite appetizer or finger food. This way, you get your luck, and your friends who aren’t familiar with our customs can get a “taste” (and some luck!), while still being able to enjoy their own favorite New Years treats.
We start by soaking a bag of black eyed peas overnight in a bowl of water to soften them before cooking. You can used canned if you like, but I haven’t found any yet that don’t have a funny aftertaste. Making fresh peas isn’t really that hard, you just have to remember to start a day ahead of time and soak them. There are ways to do a quick soak by heating up the water, but I have never used this method, but I’m sure a quick Google search can get you the information you need.Next, get your bunch of collards and clean them very well. Even when you get them in the produce isle at the grocery store, they still come with a little grit (as my Mom calls it, but it’s really sand stuck to the stalks). Nothing ruins a pot of greens faster than finding grit in your potlikker! (If you don’t know what potlikker is, you need to immediately move further south and find a nice old Grandmother to make it for you. It will change your life!) Soak them in the sink and before removing the leaves from the stalk to get the sand off the leaves. You are going to want to tear your leaves into pretty small pieces for this dish. Sometimes, you can fins bags of collards with the lettuces. These are great and will save you some time!
Now, here is where I start to make things a little easier on you. Rather than cooking your beans and collards separately, cook both of them in the same pot. Add some garlic, bacon or ham hock, pepper, and salt to water (I added a little beef broth, because I had some leftover from Christmas). Taste as you go and adjust your seasonings according to what you and your guests like. Bring everything to a boil and then turn to a low simmer and cover your pot.
You are going to need to give the greens and peas a few hours to simmer on the stove to let your flavors develop. In the mean time, you can work on your cornbread, which for the sake of keeping things simple, is also going to have your pork element worked into it. Every family has their own recipe for the way they like their cornbread. Ours uses cracklins (wonderful pieces of fried pork fat that taste like little crunchy pieces of heaven in your mouth), while other families choose to make a sweeter bread and add (aghast!) sugar. You can use whatever recipe works for you, just bake it according to the directions here, so that you get an almost cracker like element to stack the greens and peas on.
If you don’t have your own recipe, here’s what I do…. I take a cup of corn meal and sift it together with a cup of all-purpose flour and add a tablespoon of baking powder to the mix. I melt a stick of unsalted butter and add that along with one egg and enough milk to bind everything together, but not to make it too soupy. No worries, however, if you do get a little too much milk. Just add a little more flour and corn meal until you a substance that stick to the end of your wooden spoon when you pull it out of the bowl. Once your consistency is where you want it, season with two tablespoons each of salt and pepper. This is where I get excited….this is the point when you add the cracklins! Now, this ingredient can be a little elusive and more than likely your grocer won’t know what you are talking about. I know, because this happens to me all the time! Try a specialty butcher shop first, before going to the grocery store, I usually have the best luck with our local butcher. If they don’t have them, can’t get them, or look at you like you have three heads when you ask for them, attempt the grocery store. They are usually in the meat section, but I have found them in the frozen foods section as well. At least one employee will send you to get pork rinds, and while these will work, if you can get real cracklins, do. They will take your dish to a whole new level! If you can’t find cracklins and pork rinds don’t appeal to you, add come cooked bacon to get some “rich” fat.
Once you get your pork element incorporated, spread the batter out in a well greased baking pan until about 1/2 of an inch thick. This bread shouldn’t spread or rise much, so if you don’t meet the edges of the pan, don’t worry about it. Bake it in a 350* oven for about 20 minuets, but check it after 15 minuets, just to be sure. When you can insert a toothpick into the middle of the pan and it comes out clean, your bread is done.
After letting the bread cool in the pan, you can either cut it into 2 inch squares, or use a 2 inch round biscuit cutter for some fun rounds. I got 10 rounds out of my baking pan, and am using the leftovers to mash up with some black eyed peas for Will to eat to celebrate his first New Years! (I pick the cracklins out, but add more potlikker to his, so he gets his pork from the seasoning fat).You can also get a pan of cornbread at the grocery store and cut it into the shapes of your choice, rather than baking your own. If you do this, I would recommend sticking it under your broiler for a minuet or two, just to toast it up a little. This will keep any liquids from soaking into your bread too quickly. Also, since this bread probably won’t have any sort of “rich” fat added to it, you can top each one with a piece of bacon or pork rind.
Once you get your bread cut, arrange it on a platter for serving. Use some tongs to pull the collards out of the pot and place a few on each piece of cornbread. Then, go back with a slotted spoon and spoon out some black eyed peas onto the top of the collard greens.
At this point, you are ready to serve! I would recommend not building on the bread sooner than 30 minuets before you want to serve them, to keep the bread from getting soggy.
I hope that this recipe helps you to spread the joy of our southern heritage to your friends and family and keep our traditions alive! I wish for you all the luck, money, gold, and riches that 2016 has to offer!