by David Cecelski
These are photographs from the Littleton Lions Club’s annual New Years Day Black-Eyed Peas and Hog Jowls Dinner. It’s a great public event, with proceeds going to a host of good charities. The club’s volunteers serve a traditional New Years Day dinner of black-eyed peas and hog jowls, collard greens, sweet tomato pudding, hushpuppies, and homemade cookies. This year’s dinner ran from 11 AM to 1 PM at the club’s building on US 158, on the western edge of this small Halifax County town.
Mr. Marvin Newsom, one of the dinner’s organizers, very hospitably sat with me and talked about the Littleton Lions Club’s history. He’s the owner of a local insurance company that his father founded in 1914 and, like his father, he’s one of the Lions Club’s stalwarts. He was also kind enough to explain the dinner’s roots to me. He said that a proprietor of a general store inLittleton used to cook black-eyed peas and serve them to his customers every New Years. The crowds grew so large that he eventually asked the Lions Club, of which he was a member, if he could serve his black-eyed peas at the clubhouse. His black-eyed peas grew into the club’s annual dinner.
Lions Club members harvested the collard greens for the dinner at a farm 12 miles outside Littleton. For accompaniments to the collards, they provided some lovely bottles of homemade hot pepper vinegar (shown here) and also home-canned jars of hot chow-chow. The chow-chow was a dark red concoction made with tomatoes and chiles, unlike any chow-chow I had ever seen before.
Everything was delicious, but my favorite dish was probably the sweet tomato pudding, a very traditional side in the eastern NC counties along theVirginia border. I talked with the pudding cook, a charming lady named Betty, and she told me that her ingredients were canned diced tomatoes and their juice, butter, sugar, broken up pieces of bread, and a little vanilla. She said just mix them together until “it looks right.”
As good as the food was, the best thing at the Lions Club’s dinner was the warmth of the hospitality. I came by myself, but soon Mr. Newsom was introducing me to people from as far away as Roanoke Rapids and Warrenton. At my table, we talked about everything from our moms’ health to the spring concerts that the Cherry Hill Historical Foundation holds in Inez, down the road in Warren County. I left not only with a full stomach, but also with new friends and an extra helping of tomato pudding to take home.