Why Mountain People Would Cook a Coin in Cabbage Each New Year

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Photo Courtesy: Tereberna
Photo Courtesy: Tereberna

My city-slicker grandmother who did not grow up in the mountains of West Virginia, recalled with a twinkle in her eye, the first time she had new year’s dinner with my grandfather’s family in the coalfields of Southern West Virginia.

“I remember sitting down and they brought out a big pot of cooked cabbage and each person had a cabbage roll plopped down onto their plate…  About five minutes into dinner, I took a bite and it felt like I had put something metal into my mouth.

“Trying my best to retain the lady-like charm I thought I possessed, I quietly excused myself from the table and soon found what appeared to be a dime spit into my napkin…”

Though at first she was baffled as to how a dime had found its way into her dinner, she soon underwent her first of many lessons in Appalachia 101.

In the years ahead, she would come to embrace the mountain tradition of eating cabbage on the first day of the year, though she never completely bought into the idea of hiding a silver coin in one of the rolls for good luck to the unsuspecting individual who found it!

“Why not eat cabbage on the first day of the year,” she once quipped, “all the stores in West Virginia have it on sale the day before New Years.”

But where did this seemingly bizarre mountain tradition come from and what does it signify?

Turns out, like so many other aspects of Appalachian tradition and culture, this New Year’s practice was born more out of necessity than convenience.

With many mountain families growing the vast majority of the food they consumed all the way up to a generation ago, by mid-winter, cabbage was often the staple vegetable.

Keeping considerably longer through the cold months than most other veggies and being significantly cheaper made this the ideal New Year’s food for a large family.

Over the course of time, this unassuming custom would grow into a tradition in the mountains.

In the years ahead, the Scots-Irish who settled large portions of Appalachia (or kept it from being settled!) married the dinner with an old-world custom of hiding various coins in cooking mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage on special occasions and holidays – the recipient of which would be blessed in the year ahead.

Another new year tradition observed throughout the mountains was one known as “First Footer”.

This belief taught that if the first person to set foot in your house after the New Year was a tall and dark haired man, you have good luck for the coming year.

Times have always been tough for the people of Appalachia and they often have found themselves running low on hope — which is why the mountain people have so resolutely clung to a countless number of traditions and superstitions; especially when it comes to the new year… which reveals that they’ve always been looking forward.

It is important to note that this tradition requires a pure silver coin, not a clad coin as most are today.

These old traditions have become a major part of our region’s heritage and must be shared before they are forgotten altogether.  We wish you and your family a  blessed new year… whatever tradition you may observe!

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34 COMMENTS

  1. We always had cabbage on New Year’s. We had a quarter, which was a lot for a kid in the 50’s and early 60’s! It was wonderful. Mom’s family were mostly German, so we had lots kruat . I loved green tomato Kruat! Kale, taters and after Thanksgiving, pork and homemade pork rhyns.

    • I am looking for the original version recipe for Green Tomato Kraut that used…green tomatoes, green cabbage, mild banana peppers and these items chopped on a kraut board and placed in a salt brine to later be canned. Do you have or know someone that would have the recipe and be willing to pass this to me. Its one of only two recipes that I didn’t obtain from Mom or Grandma. The other being Oyster Stew.

      • Melt 1 stick of butter in a pot that will hold at least 1 gallon in size. Boil the oysters and the liquid in the butter until the edges of the oysters curl up. Add at least 1/2 gallon of milk and heat until hot but do not boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. This is for 1 pint of “standard” oysters. The large oysters referred to as “select” are too large but can be used. Do not boil the oysters stew because it will curdle. Tip: the smaller the oysters the better the stew.

      • I helped my mom make kraut when i was young. we chopped up the cabbage then mix in some little bit’s of green tomatoes and hot banana peppers. Then fill quart jars. here is the part i am not sure of. It was either 1 tea spoon salt in the top of the jar or a table spoon. i realy think it was the table spoon. then pour water in to cover cabbage. put on the lids and rings do not tighten they need to let the juice work out. when it stops working then clean and tighten. She always put the jars on a plate or pan to keep juices from going every were. and put them in a dark place to work. And we never made kraut when the signs were in the feet or bowels.

      • Tammy S. Jones you are looking for what is called Chow-Chow all the items you mentioned would be chopped fine cooked for a short time and packed in jars like pickles sometimes it could be hot or mild and in Georgia we eat it with dried beans and cornbread try looking in Southern Living magazines for recipes I don’t can it myself but it is found in all the stores here Good Luck .

  2. My dad always cooked a pot of cabbage for New Year’s with a “silver” coin in the pot. I’ve always done the same but I didn’t know why. Thank you for the article so now I can explain this to my children that wanted to know why and I just said because Paw Ivan Snuffer (German) did.

  3. My mother always put some silver change on a cabbage leaf and put it on the table on New Year’s Eve. She removed it the next day. Her family was German and English. Has anyone else heard of this?

    • I have heard of this tradition it is said to leave your midnight dinner at the table then remove it the following day. It’s to bring good fortune for the year the green cabbage leaves represent money and the meal is to always have food on the table.

  4. My Greek grandmother who grew up in New York City and later moved to southern West Virginia after marrying my grandfather, used to bake loaves of spice cake with a quarter baked somewhere inside of the cake. A loaf was given to each of her children and their families to be eaten on New Years Day. The person who received the slice with the coin hidden inside was supposed to have a lucky and blessed year ahead of them. My little sister once got caught digging through the cake in search of the quarter.

  5. My mother always cooked silver coins in her cabbage and told us that we all should have at least one bite so that we would have good health and never run out of money and we never did we might got down to one penny but was never broke

  6. I live in West Virginia and grew up eating cabbage on New Year’s Day. And, Mom always put a silver coin in it (usually a dime). Whoever got the coin in their plate would have riches in the coming year. I think it was an incentive to get us kids to eat cabbage. I love cabbage now and we always have it on New Year’s Day.

  7. I still cook a piece of silver in my cabbage on New Year’s Day. My Mother always told me that her family said by eating the cabbage with silver cooked in it you would always have money throughout the new year. I have also been told by family that you would never be without money in the new year. Which is basically the same thing. Yes, both of my parents are from the hills of West Virginia. Those customs and beliefs got them through some hard times and made us who we are today. I will always try to respect my family and their heritage by carrying on even the small traditions. It keeps them close to my heart.

  8. My grand mother always cooked cabbage with pork. She said it was to bring good luck for the coming year because we would be rooting (pig) to get a head (cabbage).

  9. Tammy S. Jones, are you talking about something called chow chow only it is made differently in area of North America. Or are you talking about something completely different from this? I probably can get you a recipe for what you are asking for.

    • Kraut and chow chow though similar are two different things. Kraut is just cabbage and chow chow is a mixture of several different vegetables and is sweet.
      Mom made both.

  10. My family did cooked cabbage on New Years. My husband’s family did cabbage rolls cooked on a bed of kraft, was happy to adopt that tradition. Both families had the silver in the pot tradition.

  11. Thank You for sharing this information. I find it so interesting. I always knew to eat cabbage and pork on new years but never knew about the coin. I guess you can say you learn something new everyday. Many Thanks

  12. I remember Dad cleaning a silver dime for Mom to cook with the cabbage for New Year’s.

    We also had a midnight tradition where we would open the back door (or window) so old man time (the current year) could leave the house. Then the front door so the New Year’s Baby could enter. Then close the back door (or window). Then close the front door. I have no idea where this tradition started but I remember finally being old enough to be allowed to open and clean the doors during the New Year’s party.

  13. We always have greens/collards. Black eyed peas. And a pork roast. It was always said the green was for the bills and the blackened peas stood for the change you would have money in the new year. Don’t remember what the pork roast stood for

  14. OUR TRADITION WAS A LITTLE DIFFERENT. AT OUR HOUSE WE PUT IN A COIN [IT HAD TO BE SILVER] IN THE CABBAGE. AND THAT WOULD BRING GOOD LUCK FOR THE ENTIRE NEXT YEAR NO MATTER WHO FOUND IT. IT WAS FOR THE WHOLE HUSEHOLD. IT WAS SAID THAT WE WOULD NEVER BE BROKE FOR THE NEXY Y
    EAR….

  15. WV Scotch-Irish descendant here. We were always told that a silver coin, usually a large coin- cooked in a pot of cabbage on New Years day meant good luck in the way of financial matters for the New Year!

  16. Tradition at our house was cabbage, brown beans, cornbread, and either pork chops or pork roast. I don’t recall any coin silver or otherwise.

  17. This story is lovely, but two things mentioned seemed odd to me. I am proud to be a product of Appalachia’s southern West Virginia coal fields. We are not “running low on hope”. We are some of the most optimistic people in the U.S.. We except the struggle and to an extent find it peaceful and embrace it. We also know if we keep hope that things are going to get better. That is what we hold onto.

    We also settled a very rugged part of the country by choice. Perhaps the terrain was familiar to our ancestors that came from the highlands. Maybe it was the fact that earlier colonists considered the land useless for their goals of becoming more like the English estate owner. As wealthy land holders were of a higher social rank and had more freedoms than those who did not own land. The people that settled the area realized they could own their own land. Therefor they would not have to live under the thumb of someone else.
    They realized the challenges then and we do now. We are still here now making the best of it and making it better for the next generation. We never turned away people that truly wanted to live with us. We became weary of those coming to exploit us. So by no means have we kept it from being settled Perhaps the point is the land is still wild and the people that live here are staunchly independent. We have to be as no one really offers us a hand up and that is fine because in someways we are too proud for charity.

  18. I’m from WV and we have always had cabage rolls on New year’s with coins cooked in them… usally silver dollars…it was for good luck and money for the new year ahead of you

  19. I’m from North Carolina and we never had cabbage on New Year’s, but always black-eyed peas and ham hock with corn bread. The dime went in the black-eyed peas (which at least gave one a fighting chance of seeing before biting down on it).

  20. Both of the traditions mentioned here come straight from Gaelic Scotland/Ireland. For some more detailed information I highly recommend Stations of the Sun: The Ritual Year in Britain by Ronald Hutton.

  21. My mom was from West Virginia and every year on New Year’s Day should put change in the cabbage I still do it to this day then I make a stew out of it

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