Sara Davis considers the Southern roots of traditional New Year’s fare and finds a range of disparate cultures.
Surely, for example, German immigrants brought their lucky pork and cabbage with them to their Southern settlements, although they found it easier to grow other members of the cabbage family such as kale or collards. (Tough, fibrous collards have a surprisingly cosmopolitan history, cultivated across multiple continents for the last millennia.)
Black-eyed peas arrived by way of trade with West Africa and West Indies — as was okra, another Southern staple.
The Native American crop corn put corn bread (and, later, bourbon) on the table.
The mingling of these cultures created a culinary mix of belly-filling, rib-sticking foods that can no more be separated into distinct cultural classes than the hog jowl can be separated from the hoppin’ john after simmering together all day.
Despite the diversity of this bounty, nearly every source traces the symbolism of Southern New Years dishes to a specifically financial kind of luck. The greens represent paper money, as I had heard before; black-eyed peas represent coins; corn bread alludes to gold.