﷯The black-eyed pea, also called black-eyed bean, blackeye, lobiya or chawli, is a subspecies of the cow pea, grown for its medium-sized edible bean, pale-colored with a prominent black spot Sure - you've heard of them. Chances are good you have settled down to more than one special meal where this unique vegetable was the center of attention, in spite of being surrounded by such grand dishes as honey-glazed ham, candid yams and an array of succulent desserts. You eat them for the taste, yes, but you mostly eat them for good luck; to make certain the new year is going to be a profitable and sustaining one. If you're not from Texas, or from somewhere in the southern United States, then perhaps you don't observe the annual eating ritual on New Year's Day when the black-eyed pea takes center stage on dining tables across the state. Most of us wouldn't consider starting the new year without them, so rooted has the tradition become in our regional culture. But have you ever had a black-eyed pea that was grown in Athens? No - not Greece, but Athens Texas. It's a trick question actually, because chances are really good you have eaten Athens cow peas (as they are often called around Athens) because Athens, you see, is the black-eyed pea Capital of the World! The nature and history of this humble pea is significantly important to Texans. In fact it is rumored you can lose your Texas citizenship for not participating in the annual New Year ritual for it is the unwritten obligation of every Texan to eat black-eyed peas on the first day of every year! Okay, perhaps that statement is a little extreme. But Texans have long embraced the unusual tradition, and continue to do so in modern times. Why? What is the origin of this eating tradition, and why? Apparently during the Civil War it was quite common for Union troops to burn Confederate crops, but Union soldiers viewed the black-eyed pea as livestock feed and not an edible vegetable, so - legend has it - they spared the "cow pea". Southerners were so overjoyed to find the peas still in the field. Hungry and hard-pressed by the perils of war, they turned to the pea as a primary staple of sustenance. The tradition states that those who eat blackeyes, an inexpensive and modest food, show their humility and thus bring good fortune to themselves for the entire year. The tradition, however, may have started long before Texas became populated by the white man. Even as far back as ancient Egypt, these special little peas were considered to be a symbol of good luck and fortune. Ancient Asiatic, African, and European cultures ate black-eyed peas to protect them from the Evil Eye as well. In Texas, it's a little more simple. Texans, you see, just know a good pea when they eat one! ﷯But while the black-eyed pea may not have originated in Texas, it did take a Texan to bring them to the spotlight. It was in 1909 that the pea gained it's international fame when an Athens businessman decided to grow the "cowpeas" in large quantities in and around this farming community. The late J. B. Henry, is credited with discovering the process for drying black-eyed peas, which made the pea a more viable agricultural product for shipment around the world. From the 1930's up until the 1970's, Athens was the largest producer of black-eyed peas in the world. While many canning plants opened during these years, the largest employer was "Home Folks". The company was very successful in internationally marketing a specially labeled brand called Good Luck Peas. Even ritzy retailers like Neiman Marcus carried their infamous "Texas Caviar", bottled pickled black-eyes. Upon retirement by the owners and subsequent closure of the plant, Athens reduced their production drastically, though many area farmers and garderners still grow the peas locally today. In honor of it's history and contribution to Athens, the black-eyed pea was given it's own festival. The Black-Eyed Pea Jamboree is held annually at the height of harvest in July. Here you'll find great Texas fiddle music, parades, and more ways to eat cow peas than you can shake a stick at! The late Bill Perryman, an Athens oil man, invented a perennial jamboree favorite, the peatini. "It’s a martini with marinated black-eyed peas instead of olives," says Mary Ann Perryman, Bill’s widow. "The recipe is in the Dallas restaurant’s Routh Street Cookbook. We even patented the peatini logo." In addition to abstract martinis, you just haven't lived until you've tried black-eyed pea enchiladas, cowpea quiche or black-eye pea cheesecake. Trust me, your imagination is no match for the locals of Athens and their favorite and creative black-eyed pea recipes! So according to Texas tradition you are to eat your black-eyeds on New Years Day and most likely they'll be from Athens, Texas. Oh, and toss a few dried ones in with your coin purse on that day and make sure you eat greens with those black-eyeds. The peas bring good luck and stand for copper and gold coins and the greens stand for folding money - so goes the superstition/tradition. Athens, located east of Waco just off-center of central Texas, has alot to offer year round for those who would like to get a taste of true rural Texas. The area abounds with fishing, hiking and outdoor camping opportunities. There's even a scuba park with up to 70' of underwater visibility. Novice and expert divers alike enjoy swimming in and around Ray Price's tour bus, Clint Eastwood's houseboat, and now a sunken Lockheed C-140 Jetstar airliner! And peas aren't the only thing grown in and around Athens. The area has many berry farms as well to visit during the hot, summer months. ﷯Oh, and by the way, if black-eyed peas aren't your thing, not to worry, as Athens is also the official home of the American hamburger. That's right - the hamburger, as documented by the New York herald Tribune. Local burger chef, Fletcher Davis represented Athens at the world's fair in 1904 and introduced his hamburgers to the world. Wonder if he served it with a side of black-eyed peas? Athens Attractions Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center The best outdoor entertainment value in East Texas just keeps on getting better! Indoor or covered exhibits make for perfect entertainment year-round, rain or shine. With over 300,000 of aquaria, you'll have a chance to see practically every freshwater species of fish found in Texas! This unique Texas Parks and Wildlife Department facility is a combination aquatic education center, native Texas fish aquarium and production fish hatchery. Visitors can view fish (including the world record blue catfish, Splash) in simulated natural habitats, learn about the history of sport fishing, walk a wetlands trail or take a narrated tram tour of the production hatchery. Daily dive shows let visitors see fish hand-fed in a 26,000-gallon aquarium. Free fishing with all equipment provided and no license required is available in a stocked casting pond. Located East of Athens on FM 2495. Open Tuesday-Saturday 9am-4pm, Sundays 1pm-4pm. Dive shows at 11am Monday-Friday, 11am and 2pm Saturday, and 2pm Sunday. For information or directions call 903.676.2277. New York, TX Cheesecake It may be tough to choose from all the delicious flavors, but you're sure to find one (or two) that you can call your favorite. Through the viewing window, you can even watch the cheesecakes as they come out of the oven, all warm and creamy. Stop by for your little taste of heaven made right here in Athens. Located at 211 North Palestine, just one-half block north of the square. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 11am to 5pm. 903.677.6706 East Texas Arboretum & Botanical Society Enjoy this living refuge of East Texas' natural beauty! The Arboretum spreads over one hundred acres - rising from marsh and swampland to pastureland, 80 feet higher in elevation. Educational forums are planned throughout the year. Learn about flowers, herbs, greenery and other topics. Each year, the Arboretum hosts it's Annual Fair. 903.675-5630 Henderson County Fairgrounds There's literally something happening at the fairgrounds nearly every weekend! Located 3 miles east of downtown Athens on Highway 31, the Complex sits on 68 acres and consists of the coliseum, multi-purpose building, three barns, and an outdoor arena. The coliseum will seat 4,500 people. Concession stands and restrooms are located on both sides of the coliseum. The coliseum is approximately 370 x 200 feet with the arena floor being 250 x 120 feet. Ten bucking chutes and nine pens are located on one end of the arena floor, while roping boxes and five pens are located at the opposite end. 903.677.6354 Black Beauty Ranch This 1,430-acre refuge is home to many hundreds of animals -- from chimpanzees to burros to elephants. Here, animals do not get harassed or harmed, but a helping hand and healthy food. Founded by children's author, Cleveland Amory, the Black Beauty Ranch is a wonderful place to visit. The ranch is located just outside of Athens, off of FM 1803 north. They are open to the public on Saturdays from 9am until 4pm. Closed during the month of August due to extreme temperatures. 903.469.3811 Henderson County Historical Museum Vintage and antique memorabilia are displayed in the 1896 Faulk-Gauntt building. First floor exhibits emulate a turn-of-the-century dry goods store while the second floor is a recreation of an early law office, parlor, bedroom, bath, kitchen, and schoolroom. The Museum is located at 217 N. Prairieville Street and is open Fridays and Saturdays, 10am until 3pm. 903.677.3611 Athens Scuba Park With up to 70' of underwater visibility, there's no telling what you'll see at the Athens Scuba Park! Novice and expert divers alike enjoy swimming in and around Ray Price's tour bus, Clint Eastwood's houseboat, and now a sunken Lockheed C-140 Jetstar airliner! Are you making plans to dive in Cozumel, Hawaii, or any other exotic spot? Come to Athens for your certification! The Athens Scuba Park offers many instructional classes! 903.675.5762