A couple of decades ago, when I stopped actively celebrating New Year’s Eve, I started cooking a big meal for New Year’s Day and use New Year’s Eve to prep the food.
It’s always a simple menu using the Southern good luck staples that we always had for New Year’s Day growing up – pork, greens, and black-eyed peas. If that’s your basic menu, cornbread is a given. Over time, I realized that such a healthy and hearty meal should be shared and began to invite friends and family over for the meal to celebrate the beginning of a new year.
In recent years it has become “a thing” and my menu constantly evolves while the basics remain the same. Since many of the same people attend regularly, I constantly make notes and look for ways to add new touches and tastes. In 2014, for example, I served baked grits from the recipe used at Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham as a base over which to ladle the black-eyed peas. It was a delicious riff on traditional ingredients.
Around Thanksgiving of 2014 I was talking with a new colleague and friend and holiday plans came up. I asked her if she would be around for New Year’s Day and told her that if she was, she was invited to my house for lunch. She said she would like to come and I told her that it would be nothing fancy, “just the New Year’s staples.”
“Herring?” she asked.
That caught me off-guard. “Well, no, actually,” I said. “I meant pork, black-eyed peas, and turnip greens.”
The conversation ended soon after but I was intrigued and started researching and found that herring is a New Year’s good luck food in Germany, Scandinavia, and some eastern European locations. I resolved then and there to add herring in some form to my New Year’s lunch menu this year.
I decided to serve a herring appetizer. As guests arrived on New Year’s Day, in addition to various pralines, hard candies, and pecans, there was a serving dish with herring in white wine sauce with red onion slivers scattered around. Toasts and crackers were laid out on which to layer the herring. Sour cream was available at the side as a spread for the fish. It was a very tasty and popular appetizer. It may become a new tradition for the meal at my house.
After all the guests arrived and toasts were made, the lunch main menu was pretty standard for Southern homes on New Year’s Day:
Pork Roast with dry rub of coffee, brown sugar, seasoned salt, and orange zest
Seasoned Black-Eyed Peas
Seasoned Mixed Greens
The seasoning for the greens and peas included hog jowl. The ambrosia is adapted from a simple ambrosia from chef Scott Peacock. His elegant classic includes only orange, coconut, sugar, and sherry. Mine uses satsumas from south Alabama for the citrus and adds pecan pieces and cherry slices.
The pork roast dry rub is worth sharing. I had jotted down a recipe from somewhere for a meat dry rub using coffee, granulated sugar, and seasoned salt. I experimented with it until I came up with the one I used on New Year’s Day. All of my guests left the lunch with a jar of this rub and it’s one you can easily make.
Dry Rub for Meat
1 part ground coffee (I used Community Coffee)
1 part brown sugar
1 part seasoned salt
1/2 part orange zest
Put all ingredients into a jar. Seal the lid and shake to mix thoroughly. Rub the meat with a good olive oil and then generously rub the meat with the dry rub.
We were ten at table – seven adults and three young people aged 11 and younger. For dessert, each guest was served a single madeleine and reminded of how Proust’s madeleine was a trigger for memory in Remembrance of Things Past. Whatever…
The adults enjoyed the madeleines and the kids scarfed them down; I doubt that anyone was too concerned about Proust.
It was a lovely meal and a lovely afternoon. A soft rain began as the guests began to leave. As the last guest departed, we had a quick “post-mortem” of the event. “The afternoon was full of laughter,” she said. “That’s what I needed — an afternoon filled with laughter.”
May 2015 be filled with happy laughter.