By Ann Cipperly
On New Year’s Day, the family of Vondalyn Hall celebrates with traditional southern foods. The day would be incomplete without hog jowl, black eyed peas, sweet potatoes, turnip greens or collards and some kind of pork in addition to the jowl and cornbread. When Vondalyn and her husband Bob first met almost 50 years ago, they discovered that both their families, going back for generations, put great emphasis on New Year’s Day traditions.
When Vondalyn was very young, her family raised hogs on their North Alabama farm. If fresh meat was available, they usually had a pork loin, pork chops or a boiled ham on New Year’s. Hog jowl as well as salt cured country hams came from their own smoke house. The dried black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, turnip greens and the cornmeal (made from grinding corn) for the cornbread were all products of their own labor on a self-sufficient farm.
“The significance of the ‘must have’ New Year’s meal cannot be underestimated for the traditionalist,” Vondalyn said.
Pork is an important reminder to look to the future and not the past as we move into the New Year. This is based on the fact that hogs root forward not backward. Also, hogs cannot turn their heads without turning all the way around heading in the opposite direction.
“Black-eyed peas, originally considered fit for only animals, represent coins,” Vondalyn said. “After the Civil War when many families found themselves quite poor, peas were turned to as a means of sustenance, gaining value, being referred to as tiny coins.
“The turnip greens or collards represented green back dollars hoped for in the New Year. Both the sweet potatoes and cornbread symbolized gold because of their color.”
Before Vondalyn and Bob met, he was in the Army stationed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He was given a choice of taking leave either at Christmas or New Year’s.
“He chose New Year’s because he wanted to eat the traditional New Year’s meal with his family,” Vondalyn said. “Bob’s mom, who grew up in an old south family in North Carolina and Virginia, believed that what you ate on New Year’s Day was relevant to the success you had throughout the year. She credited this belief not only to her southern roots, but to the superstitions of her Irish ancestors.”
When Bob, who was an Opelika dentist, and Vondalyn married in 1975, they decided to continue the fun traditions that had been passed down in their families for generations. To both of them, Jan 1, was about much more than food traditions. They wanted their three daughters, Betsy, Amelia and Katie, to understand that New Year’s Day represents a chance to start anew.
“The New Year is about second chances,” Vondalyn said. “It is a day to embrace the message of Christmas enabling them to move forward with positivity and hope in the coming year.”
Today, almost four years after losing her husband, Vondalyn and her family still celebrate the traditions that she and Bob began over 46 years ago. During the last few years, Vondalyn has varied from the traditional New Year’s Day lunch to serve brunch. This allows her family and friends more time to watch bowl games on New Year’s Day.
For bunch, her family has enjoyed dishes such as Sweet Potato Biscuits and Black-eyed Pea Dip as an appetizer. Normally desserts are kept simple. Along with her traditional recipes, Vondalyn has included dessert recipes from her grandmother and great grandmother, among others.
While Vondalyn is enjoying retirement and spending time with grandchildren, she had a career in education for many years. She taught at Cullman High School for four years, then took a year off to attend Auburn University for her master’s degree. Afterwards, the university offered her a teaching position in the Department of Consumer Affairs. She held other positions before becoming coordinator of recruitment and public relations for that department.
As Vondalyn comes to the end of 2021, she remembers her Mama Owen, her maternal grandmother, who kept a little poem above her kitchen sink.
“Thank God for dirty dishes; they have a tale to tell.
While others may go hungry, we’ve eaten very well.
With health and wealth and happiness,
There is no need to fuss, for by this stack of evidence,
God’s been very good to us.”
“For Mama Owen, hope and happiness was a predetermined mindset,” Vondalyn said. Like my grandmother, I have set my mind to look for the blessings that surround me in 2022. I will be intentional about thinking more about others and less about myself. I resolve to use my time and my talents and my energy to encourage those who are lonely and downtrodden.
“As I count my blessings, I will remind myself that a year is better if we share what we have. For the 74 past New Year’s, I have witnessed the providence for God, the goodness of people and the hope driven by a deep seated faith. I expect no less in 2022. Based on a Bible verse that I learned as a child, I will awaken each day, expecting God’s mercies to be new, once again.”
May the coming year be a time of renewed hope and faith for you and your family.
Black-Eyed Pea Dip
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ cup sour cream
¼ tsp. ground cumin
1 (10 oz.) can Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies, drained
1 (15 oz.) can seasoned black-eyed peas, drained
¼ tsp. salt, or to taste
¼ tsp. pepper, or to taste
1 cup shredded medium cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat oil in a pan and add the onion. Cook until onion begins to look transparent.
Add remaining ingredients to the pan except for the shredded cheese. Stir until mixture is well mixed and remove from heat.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer to a baking dish and sprinkle cheese on top.
Bake for 20 minutes, making sure the cheese is melted. Serve with tortilla chips.
Baked Sweet Potatoes with Toppings
4 or more medium sweet potatoes
1 Tbsp. oil
1 tsp. salt
Toppings: butter, brown sugar, cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Scrub the potatoes; dry thoroughly. Rub the potatoes with oil. You can use olive oil, vegetable oil or coconut oil. Season generously with salt, using table salt or coarse sea salt. Poke 5 to 6 holes in the potatoes with a knife or fork. This helps the steam escape.
Place sweet potatoes on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, depending on the size of the potato. The potatoes should be soft and starting to ooze. Remove from heat. Make a slit in the top; squeeze open.
Serve immediately with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon or your favorite topping.
Note: If preferred, sweet potatoes can be baked, peeled and mashed to use in a soufflé, pie, or another dish, rather than served with toppings.
Fried Hog Jowl
Buy hog jowl, either sliced or in a slab. Whether you buy it sliced or in a slab, cut off the outside rind, using a sharp knife. If jowl is in a slab, slice it into strips like bacon. Line a pan with narrow sides, with aluminum foil, sealing the foil over the edges of the pan. Lay slices of hog jowl on the foil lined pan, with sides touching.
Put it in an oven preheated to 400 degrees. Turn the slices every 10 minutes until crisp and brown. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
Ham in a Brown Bag
Butt portion of ham with bone in it (allow ½ lb. per person)
Heavy brown paper bag with any handles cut off
Put ham in the heavy brown paper bag, placing the flat side down. Fold the top of the bag down and tuck the opening of the bag under the ham.
Place on a baking pan and bake for 20 minutes a pound at 325 degrees.
This will be one of the juiciest hams you’ve ever eaten.
Mama Jones Egg Custard Pie
2 cups milk
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. salt
Heat milk but do not boil. Beat eggs slightly; add sugar, vanilla and salt and mix until completely smooth. Gradually add hot milk, whisking as you add. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle the top of the pie with nutmeg.
Place pie on a baking sheet in the oven and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and bake an additional 30 to 40 minutes or until filling is set.
To test for doneness, insert a knife blade into the pie between the side of the pan and the center. If the knife comes out clean, the pie will be firm all the way through when it cools. It you insert the knife in the center, the filling will coat the knife blade like a thick sauce.
Mama Jones Molasses Cookies
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
3 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp. vinegar
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsps. soda
Cream butter, sugar and molasses until light and fluffy. Add beaten eggs along with vinegar. Sift flour with salt and soda. Slowly add to the butter mixture. Mix well. Chill for 2 hours.
Roll out on a floured surface until very thin. Cut out with floured cookie cutters and place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 425 degrees until lightly browned.
2 cups finely ground self-rising cornmeal
½ cup self-rising flour
¼ tsp. soda
2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg, beaten
¼ cup all vegetable shortening or bacon drippings
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. While the oven is heating, mix all dry ingredients together and blend well.
Add buttermilk and beaten egg. Stir until ingredients are wet and blended. Over mixing will cause the bread to be too crumbly.
Put the shortening in a seasoned caste iron 12 inch skillet and heat in the oven approximately 5 minutes until hot.
Remove skillet with hot shortening from the oven and quickly add the melted shortening to the cornbread mixture, stirring quickly to blend the mixture. Immediately pour the mixture in the hot skillet; the mixture should sizzle when it touches the skillet.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the top is browned.
New Year’s Day Soup
This is a perfect soup for New Year’s or an ideal way to use leftovers the next day.
2 cups chipped barbecue pork or 2 cups diced ham
16-oz. pkg. frozen creamed sweet corn
2 cups turnip greens, cooked and seasoned
2 cups black-eyed peas, cooked
1 medium purple onion, chopped
1 large can (27 oz.) diced petite tomatoes with juice
¼-½ cup barbecue sauce (your favorite)
4 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients in a large soup pot. Start cooking on high. Stir frequently. When mixture starts to boil, turn down to low and simmer l to l ½ hours until flavors are well blended. Stir occasionally as soup simmers.
Serve hot soup with cornbread.
This recipe can be doubled if you are serving a crowd.
Old Fashion Sweet Potato Pie with Praline Sauce
1 deep dish pie crust, uncooked
1 large sweet potato
1 cup sugar
¼ cup melted butter
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla
Bake sweet potato, peel and mash until smooth without lumps. Put 1 cup mashed potato in a mixing bowl. Add sugar, butter, eggs, salt and cinnamon. Mix, using an electric mixer, until all ingredients are well blended. Slowly add milk, beating on slow speed. Add the vanilla and mix well.
Pour into a 9 inch deep dish unbaked piecrust.
Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce oven to 350 degrees and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle granulated sugar over the top of the pie while it is still hot. Cool and top with praline sauce, piece by piece, as the pie is served.
¼ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup evaporated milk
½ cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 tsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add sugar and milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Boil 3 minutes until the mixture has thickened and it coats a spoon. Add the pecans, vanilla and salt. Reduce heat to low and cook another minute. Pour into a jar, cool and store in the refrigerator.
Perfect Pie Crust
2 cups flour
½ tsp. salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter
¼ cup ice water
Sift flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut butter into the flour mixture until it looks like coarse meal. Add the water gradually, mixing until the dough begins to hold together. Using your hands shape the dough into 2 equal balls. Wrap each portion in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Roll out the dough on a floured pastry sheet and fit into two 9 inch pans, trimming and fluting the edges.
Pork Chops and Sauerkraut
(Adapted from a dish prepared by my great grandmother, Martha Wilhite Jones)
6 pork chops, well marbled, 1 inch thick preferred
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil or olive oil (lard was specified in the original recipe)
2-3 large potatoes, cut into ¼ inch slices
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 cups sauerkraut
3 Tbsp. brown sugar (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel and slice potatoes in ¼ inch slices. Place half the potatoes in the bottom of a greased 9×13 inch casserole dish. Salt and pepper to taste.
Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. Brown the pork chops in the hot oil, turning to brown the second side. Remove from oil and drain.
Place one half the pork chops over the layered potatoes. Top with one half the onion slices and half the sauerkraut. Sprinkle with brown sugar, if desired. Repeat the layers, ending with sauerkraut and onions and a sprinkling of brown sugar.
Cover the casserole dish tightly with aluminum foil.
Bake in the oven for 1 hour. If you use a thicker pork chop, you may need to increase your baking time by up to 30 minutes. The pork chops should be fork tender.
Sweet Potato Biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour (I use White Lily)
4 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
¼ cup shortening, chilled and cut into small pieces (can use ½ butter and ½ solid shortening)
1 cup sweet potato, mashed and chilled
½ to ¾ cup cold buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar together. Using a pastry blender, cut the shortening, and the mashed sweet potato into the flour mixture until well blended. You should see flakes of shortening throughout the mixture.
Gradually add the buttermilk a small amount at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon, until a sticky dough forms. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding flour to the surface, the dough and your hands, if necessary, to prevent stickiness. Pat the dough out to ¾ inch thickness.
Cut biscuits out using a 2” cutter, pressing the cutter down into the dough to form straight sides.
Arrange biscuits in a greased baking pan with sides of the biscuits touching each other. Place the biscuits in the refrigerator to chill for about 5 minutes before placing them in the preheated oven.
Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until tops are golden brown and the biscuits are no longer doughy. Brush the tops with melted butter and serve warm.
Turnip Greens with Ham Hocks
Washing turnip greens is the most important step in preparing fresh greens. This is a time consuming process but well worth the time involved. Because turnip greens grow so close to the ground, they are usually covered in dirt and grime.
First, soak the greens in salted water, then rinse them 4 or 5 times. You will want to repeat this process until greens appear perfectly clean and no grains of sand remain.
2 lbs. ham hocks, rinsed
2 quarts water
2 large bunches fresh turnip greens
2 Tbsp. sugar
Salt to taste
Place ham hocks in a large pot along with water. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 1 ½ hours or until meat is tender. Remove ham from stock and set aside.
While ham is cooking, remove the stems off the turnip greens through the middle of the leaves, along with any discolored leaves. Wash according to the directions given above. Drain. Chop the greens.
Add the turnip greens to ham stock along with sugar.
Bring the stock to boiling again and turn heat to low. Cook for 1 ½ to 2 hours or until greens are tender.
Chop the meat from the ham hocks that you’ve set aside and add as much ham as you want back to the greens. Add salt if needed.
Serve the turnip greens with cornbread.
Teeny Hall’s Boiled Hog Jowl
Cut off the outer rind of the hog jowl with a sharp knife. Discard the rind. Slice the jowl into small 2 inch pieces, allowing several pieces of jowl for each person.
Heat water in a medium size pan until it starts to boil, being sure you have enough water to cover the jowl. Add the pieces of jowl to the boiling water. Turn the heat down and boil for about one hour until tender. Add jowl to black-eyed peas or turnip greens.