It was New Year’s Day.  Anna May had spent days preparing food for all the friends and relatives that would drop by to exchange best wishes for the New Year. Anna May would insist on everybody’s having some chitterlings even if only a mouthful. 

One had to eat chitterlings on New Year’s Day for good luck.  It was a tradition Anna May’s grandmother and mother had instilled in her.  But if the truth be told, Anna May did not like chitterlings.  She put them in the same category as cooked turnips and parsnips.  She did not like any of them.  She also did not like the fact that she had to wash and prepare chitterlings so carefully and thoroughly since they were from the small intestines of a pig. 

Anna May had asked her grandmother the history of eating chitterlings for good luck on New Year’s Day, but her grandmother did not know.  Anna May decided to Google “chitterlings” and learned the following:

Chitterlings is sometimes spelled/pronounced “chitlins” or “chittlins.”  Anna May already knew that.  “Chitterling is first documented in Middle English by the Oxford English Dictionary in the form ‘chetering’ around 1400.Various other spellings and dialect forms were used. Chitterlings were common peasant food in medieval England, and remained a staple of the diet of low-income families right up until the late 19th century.”  Anna May did not know that. 

Anna May discovered that chitterlings went by different names in different countries and might even come from animals other than pigs, but chitterlings – as far as being from the small intestines of animals, was an international dish.  Anna May learned that chitterlings are eaten in the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, France, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia.  In the United States, chitterlings are usually associated with African Americans and Southern cooking.

Anna May could not find a satisfactory answer to why eating chitterlings on New Year’s Day was considered good luck. One Google site suggested that it was considered good luck because during slavery times in the U.S., slave owners gave remnants from hog slaughters to their slaves during the slaves’ week off between Christmas and New Year’s.  (Hmm. Food for thought.)

On this New Year’s Day, per usual, Anna May did not eat any chitterlings and did not let anyone know that she did not.  What mattered most to Anna May was that her family and friends enjoyed coming to her house on New Year’s Day and being with people they loved as well as sharing in an old culinary tradition.

Happy New Year Everyone, and Best Wishes for a Year of Good Luck with or without the Chitterlings Tradition.

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...