From humanity’s first steps into civilization to our post-postmodern cultures, we have always been a people fascinated by time. Today, it seems a simple fact of life that we inhabit a planet suspended in a near-infinite vastness which orbits a flaming orb of molten fusion whose light and heat radiation grants us the day/night and seasonal cycles we take for granted. However, for our ancient ancestors, who were without a longstanding, scientific record of the nature of the cosmos, these cycles were anything but certain. As religion and faith wove into human existence, supernatural meaning was attributed to the shifting sun. For many cultures, the sun became a god or entity who was continually fighting for his survival. In the spring and summer months, the sun was the unbridled champion of the sky, ruling with long days and short nights; but, as winter approached, the sun began to falter and the night again grew strong. After the winter solstice passed, celebrations at the end of December (many on December 25th) shook the ancient world as the sun remained victorious for another cycle.
As modern people, we tend to look at our ancestor’s end-of-year beliefs as uninformed foolishness which have no place in our rational world. But, as the new year grows closer, we seem to, if only by accidental tradition, slip back into the superstitions and festivals of our ancestors in order to instill luck in the coming year. In many modern cultures, coins are given as gifts (or baked into breads) at New Year feasts as a way of bestowing the spirit of fortune on those we love. In some circles, cooked turkey or fowl fly the revelers towards a better year. Other cultures heartily disagree with this belief, as birds “scratch backwards” to find food, a sure sign of hard times for the new year. Instead, it is believed that pigs are the true guardians of good luck (whether real or pretend, like the marzipan pigs of Germany), as they “root forward” to better pastures. And finally, lentils of any variety (particularly black eyed peas in America’s southern states) are said to inspire good luck and fortune because of their round coin-like appearance, signifying the completion of the old year and the fortune of the next. Because my background lies in several of these traditions, I thought it only appropriate to share one of my family’s favorite soup recipes that’s as delicious as is it lucky!
Lucky Ham and Lentil Soup
- Leftover chopped ham and ham hock (this is a great way to use any leftover ham from Christmas!)
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 chopped celery stalks
- 4 chopped carrots
- 4 medium potatoes, chopped (optional)
- 1 pound of lentils/beans
- 12 ounces of diced, canned tomatoes
- 1 cup hot water
- 2 teaspoons ham soup base
- 32-64 ounces of chicken stock (2 cartons)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Soak lentils in 2 quarts of water overnight to rehydrate. Drain thoroughly after the lentils have soaked.
- Mix ham soup base and hot water together and pour into a large stock pot. Add in the onion, celery, carrots, potatoes, lentils, tomatoes, and ham Muddle or smash some of the beans to fully release their flavor.
- Pour in 32 ounces of chicken stock and bring to a boil. Cover and continue boiling for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to keep the soup from sticking to the pot. If the soup begins to look dry, gradually add in more of the chicken stock.
- After the soup has boiled for an hour, remove the ham bone and cut off any meat still attached. Chop this meat into small cubes and return to the pot.
- Reduce the heat to a simmer for 2 – 3 hours and occasionally sip to taste. You can also move the soup to a crock pot/slow cooker for this step.
- When the soup is at your preferred consistency, season to taste and enjoy a bowl of lucky lentil soup!
As always, thanks for stopping by the dig! Be sure to stop back in on Tuesday for another recipe unearthed specifically for the New Year!
Happy holidays and keep digging!