So we begin another new year today -- a leap year in fact, which means we've got more to do in fewer days, and someone gets to claim that he misses a birthday.

And today, many of us will eat blackeyed peas.

So what's the story behind this Southern tradition?

I'm sure there are many thoughts on this, one being just as official as the other, I'm sure.

My thought is that from late November through December we often are overwhelmed with holiday food. Turkey, ham, casseroles of myriad description, pies, cakes, puddings, candy, etc., etc., are at every turn.

I think blackeyed peas on News Year's Day has to do with getting back to basics.

Now I realize that traditions vary and perhaps there are other meals that have to do with the locale. I've heard some folks like collards on New Year's Day. I could easily go that route.

But I'm looking forward to the blackeyed peas. And my wife generally seasons them with ham hocks simply because hog jowls don't have much meat on them.

For the city slickers who only know about ham and tenderloin in the pork venue, hog jowls are hog jaw.

Once when I was working in a grocery store I tried to explain hog jowls to a lady from Boston (Mass.) Boy was she surprised. And when I showed her some of our best smoked hams with a little mold on them, I thought I was going to have to call the paramedics. That poor lady swore off pork then and there. As far as she was concerned, any kind of mold was tantamount to botulism and anyone who would eat a hog's jaw was a potential character for the sequel to "Deliverance." Good thing I didn't bring up chitluns.

To prepare myself for getting back to the basics, I had a big chunk of souse meat Saturday. I find it goes best with saltines and Louisiana hot sauce. Gets me in the mood for the basics.

I tried to explain souse meat (also known as hogshead cheese) to a friend, and I don't think he quite grasped it all. He had always thought it was something like Spam.

I explained that souse meat is to the world of pork what Monet was to the world of art. Spam on the other hand would be more like a velvet Elvis. Souse meat is art. Spam is painting by the numbers. He said he would take my word for it.

It's funny how some people view food as being acceptable or not acceptable. They will eat a snail, but not a collard. They will eat an anchovy but not red roe mullet. Go figure.

I'm amused when people look at souse meat disgustingly but have no inhibitions about hotdogs.

And it's truly amazing what a big dab of mustard will do to the human psyche. I made that observation in a college philosophy class in 1968, and the professor looked at me kind of catawhampus. Luckily for me there were no right or wrong answers in philosophy class if you could put up a good argument for your case. Of course you had to know the difference between Plato and play dough, but for the most part it was about asking deep questions, looking intent and keeping your pipe lit.

While some of those guys were puffing away and asking "who am I and what am I'm doing here," I posed more earthy questions like, "What's time to a hog?" The professor, a part-time bartender who started out with the ambitions of being a priest, just stared at me with sort of a glazed-over look. I think it went right over his head. Must have been deep. I mean let's face it, if you're going to throw out food for thought, I had just as soon it be pork. I pink, therefore I Spam.

Have a happy new year!

Dwain Walden is editor/publishers of The Moultrie Observer, 985-4545. E-mail:

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