Good Luck Through Good Eating

Black-eyed peas are one way to eat your way to good fortune in the New Year, according to popular custom. But this time of year, folks fall back on many food traditions, from grapes to noodles and greens.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

New Year's Day isn't just bowl games and resolutions. Nearly every culture has special foods to eat on January 1st to insure good luck and prosperity in the New Year. WEEKEND EDITION commentator Bonny Wolf decided to try some for the New Year's Day brunch she's putting together for a newly married couple.

BONNY WOLF: Love is a perfectly good foundation for a marriage, but a little luck can't hurt. So in planning the brunch to follow tonight's wedding of young friends, I followed practices that have been around since the first four-leaf clover. At first, I thought I'd just put out a symbolic dish of black-eyed peas, the American South's traditional New Year's Day offering. Then I decided I should have a big bowl of grapes. For luck in Spain, you eat one grape with each stroke of the clock at midnight. The timing was off, but I figure it will be midnight somewhere.

But why go half way? This is a young couple's future we're talking about. So I studied up on good luck food traditions and concocted a menu. I started with legumes, essential for a lucky year. Beans, peas and lentils are all thought to bring wealth. I decided on black-eye pea corn muffins. They're a twofer. You get the good luck peas and cornbread for gold.

A noodle and spinach torta also promised two for one. In Japan, noodles are good luck because they represent long life. And in many cultures, greens mean money.

Fish was a problem. Vietnamese favor carp because it's thought to carry the good luck god on its back. But Hungarians avoid fish because it might mean your money will swim off. Without universal consensus on the lucky properties of fish, they're out.

As a gesture to the mothers of both the bride and groom, I will sprinkle pomegranate seeds, an ancient fertility symbol on the fruit salad. The pig, also a fertility charm, is considered lucky because pigs root forward, the direction we want in the New Year. I'm covering the pork front with a honey baked ham and the little marzipan pigs Austrians put out on New Year's Day.

Sweets were easy. Anything round is good luck. So I ordered Olie Bollen mix to make the little donuts that are eaten for good luck in Holland. Unfortunately, the directions are in Dutch. I've also made Vasilopita, the traditional Greek New Year's cake with a coin inside. If you get the coin, extra luck.

The newlyweds are a happy, well-suited couple. They probably don't need all this extra insurance, but why take chances. Keep your fingers crossed.

SEABROOK: Bonny Wolf is author of "Talking With My Mouth Full" and contributing editor for Kitchen Window, NPR's online food column.

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Vasilopita

This cake, loaded with citrus and brandy, is served on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day in many Greek homes. A coin is dropped in the batter and whoever gets it will have good luck in the new year. This recipe is adapted from The Foods of the Greek Islands by Aglaia Kremezi (Houghton Mifflin 2000).

4 large eggs, separated

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted

1 cup orange juice

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Grated zest of 1 orange

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Whole blanched almonds

Coin wrapped in aluminum foil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a Bundt pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg yolks and sugar until light yellow, about 3 minutes. Add the butter and beat 1 minute. Beat in the orange and lemon juices and brandy.

In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and orange and lemon zests. Add to the egg yolk mixture and stir until blended.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold them into the batter. Place the almonds on the bottom of the pan and pour the batter over them. Bake 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack before removing and serving.

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