Black-Eyed Peas: An Athens Original


Everyone knows the tradition that eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day brings good luck, but few may know that they originated in Athens. 

As the story goes, in 1909 an Athens businessman named J.B. Henry sought a way to help farmers rid the area’s legume crops of weevils by drying them in ovens. Next came the discovery that what was considered livestock feed also appealed to human tastes. Henry was soon dubbed the “Black-Eyed Pea King of East Texas.”

News traveled fast and before too long, Athens was busily supplying black-eyed peas far beyond East Texas. Canning plants opened in the 1930s and ‘40s to meet the demand.

By the 1970s, Athens had gained the title of “Black-Eyed Pea Capital of the World.” The city hosted a pea festival that continued for many years until demand and production lessened. 

Area farmers and backyard gardeners still grow the peas and Athenians (and millions of others) still pass the bowl of yummy vegetables at mealtimes — all efforts that harken back to the humble legume’s glory years in Athens. 

With a little luck, a Texas historical marker erected in downtown Athens may continue telling this story. The Henderson County Historical Commission is pursuing the possibility and the festival is rumored to return soon. In the meantime guests can celebrate Athens’ Black Eyed Pea Cook-off at the annual Fall Festival.

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