In the southern United States, black-eyed peas are traditionally served on New Year's Day. According to my aunt who grew up in San Saba, Texas, New Year's Day was the day set aside to remember times past when there was hardly any food to eat and families truly did survive on nothing but beans. Eating black-eyed peas on the first day of the year was considered good luck, that choosing to eat as if there was nothing else would prevent the family from experiencing hunger during the year.
Black-eyed peas still can be a thrifty, hearty, and filling dish to serve, and I find them particularly comforting as the evenings grow cooler. It doesn't take much money or much effort to serve up a steaming bowl to your family or dinner guests.
As with all dried beans, it is best to soak black-eyed peas in water before cooking them. Soaking overnight is best, but I've had good results from soaking as little as one hour. In any case, put one pound of dried peas in a bowl and cover them with water. After they have soaked at least one hour, drain off the water, and set them aside.
In the cooking pot (a five-quart stock pot works nicely), heat two tablespoons of olive oil. Chop up a medium onion and two stalks of celery, and sauté these in the oil until the onions start to turn clear, about fifteen minutes. Add the peas and six cups of chicken stock or vegetable stock. Water can be used, but stock will make your meal much more flavorful and enjoyable. Add black pepper to taste. I also like to add a bit of ham, not more than half a pound, cut into quarter-inch cubes. Depending on my mood, I sometimes add a few dashes of pepper sauce (I prefer Tabasco, but Crystal and Melinda's are also quite good).
Note: I have always added salt at this point, but according to sneff, "Never - never add salt before dried beans and peas are cooked - always salt the at the end, or the little darlings will be tough!" I hereby repent, and from now on will only salt after cooking.
Let this all simmer for about an hour, until the liquid has been mostly absorbed by the peas. Emeril suggests putting a bit of ketchup in the center of each dish, and that seems to go over especially well with kids. Served with a side of cornbread, black-eyed peas make a truly enjoyable and comforting meal.
BlueDragon reminded me that black-eyed peas are known as black-eyed beans in the UK. They are also known as cowpeas in some places.