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Foods to help you ring in the New Year


In this story:

Beans, greens and oysters

Saint Basil's cake

Beating the clock

Fruitcake by any other name

RELATED STORIES, SITES Downward pointing arrow

(CNN) -- If you bear a grudge, sip a soup. If you're famished for wealth, gobble some greens. If you want to banish hunger from your home, throw a cake at your door.

The New Year's holiday is ripe with rituals of renewal and luck, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the food we eat, drink, or in some cases, throw.

"There seem to be certain foods that have taken on cross-cultural symbolism," says Jennifer English, founder of The Food & Wine Radio Network, where she produces and hosts programs. "You can see the same themes from culture to culture."

How much do you know about traditional New Year's fare?
  • Ozoni Soup

  • Black-eyed Peas Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

  • Moors and Christians

  • Coventry Cakes

  • Crab Imperial

  • Grandmother's Oyster Pie

  • Saint Basil's Cake

    Click here to return to the Holiday special

    English says that expensive foods, items you may only splurge on once a year like caviar or lobster, take on special significance and are often eaten for good fortune around the globe on New Year's Day. For instance, dumplings stuffed with meats are prevalent in New Year's celebrations throughout Europe and Asia, she says. Meat, a luxury item in some cultures, is stuffed like a present inside a pasta or pastry shell.

    Beans, greens and oysters

    In the southern United States, it is said you have to eat a heaping helping of black-eyed peas to get your fair share of good luck in the new year. Some folks swear by Hoppin' John -- a recipe that mixes black-eyed peas, rice and a variety of vegetables.

    If it is fortune you seek, start cooking your collard greens, says Edythe Preet, a culinary historian who writes for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. Steeped in history, this tradition was introduced by slaves who cooked their collards with a ham hock for extra flavor.

    Chocolate, too, is rumored to be a sign of richness, and is consumed to ensure wealth in the coming year, says food historian and cookbook author Ruth Adams Bronz.

    But, if it is good sex you seek -- nothing beats an oyster.

    "A good oyster is like a poached egg, you just warm it, but you don't cook it all the way," says Bronz as she recalls her grandmother's Oyster Pie. This delicacy is generally reserved for the first day of the year and is eaten to ensure an active libido in the year to come.

    "You start out with a pint of oysters, a stick of butter and a half a sleeve of saltine crackers," Bronz says.

    Begin by sauteing a bunch of scallions and some parsley in a lot of butter, the reserved oyster liquid and a half a pint of cream. Crumble up half a sleeve of saltine crackers and add that to the mixture. Season with Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper.

    Pour the entire mixture into a buttered baking dish and sprinkle crumbled saltine crackers over the top, dot with butter and bake for ten minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

    This dish should serve between four and six people.

    Saint Basil's cake

    In the United States, folks in the Pacific Northwest find eating salmon a harbinger of good things to come.

    "It is bountiful in that area of the country," explains English. In fact, many "lucky" foods found around the world are those that celebrate a region's riches.

    Finding a shiny coin or trinket in your food should assure anyone that good fortune could not be far away.

    Saint Basil's Cake, a treat similar to the renowned King Cake found in and around Louisiana during Mardi Gras, is eaten in hopes of finding a treasure, says English.

    According to legend, only the mistress of the house can make this circular confection, and she must be dressed in her best clothes and jewels at the time of baking.

    The dough is laden with coins and trinkets and then put in the oven. Before serving, a drinking glass is used to cut out the center portion, leaving a ring of cake. Folklore dictates no one see the first cutting, English says, so a napkin is draped over the glass and the center portion is reserved for Saint Basil. Then the cake is sliced. Those who find treasure in their dessert are the luckiest of all.

    Beating the clock

    For Germans, another sort of pastry guarantees good tidings. Tradition dictates pancakes be the first food consumed in the new year. In fact, says English, often the batter is prepared and ladled onto the skillet while the clock is striking midnight.

    Another "beat the clock" tradition has its origin in Spain. For each clock strike at midnight on New Year's Eve, explains English, one grape is eaten. Good fortune is only gotten by consuming all twelve grapes before the clock stops chiming.

    For Italians, a spoonful of lentils is sure to bring money in the new year, and pork, known for its high fat content, represents the bounty of the land and hopes for prosperity.

    "Pigs always root forward," Preet says, "so eating pork represents going forward, progressing into the new year."

    In Japan, New Year's Day is the most important day of the year, English says. A soup called Ozoni -- made of mochi, a glutinous rice mixture, dumplings and vegetables -- is served on New Year's Day morning. It is an elixir that soothes an upset stomach and is eaten to cast away any grudges held over from the preceding year.

    Fruitcake by any other name

    Fruitcake might have a tarnished reputation, but this plucky dessert has managed to survive for generations, in slightly different forms, of course.

    The liquor-laden cake was present in the Irish Oiche Na Coda Moire, or "Night of the Big Portion." In this ancient New Year's Eve feast, a large meal was consumed to ensure the cupboards would be full in the new year.

    Then, a fruity cake called Barm Brack, filled with rare spices and raisins, took center stage. Usually the male of the house took three bites of the cake and then promptly hurled the rest of the cake against the door. According to Preet, this was done to banish famine from entering the house for the next year.

    In a Scottish tradition dubbed "First Footing," the first person to enter your home on New Year's Day determines your luck for the year.

    You are most lucky if a dark-haired stranger bearing a loaf of bread, a gold coin and a lump of coal knocks on your door. According to Scottish tradition, you would greet such a visitor with a stiff drink and a whiskey-drenched fruitcake, Preet says.

    Ho, ho, hey -- time to start thinking about New Year's plans
    December 25, 2000
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    December 20, 2000
    Eat healthy, not hearty, for the holidays
    December 18, 2000
    Kwanzaa feasts highlight heritage
    December 15, 2000
    Eggnog -- a Renaissance-era comfort food
    November 21, 2000

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