Sperryville column for Jan. 5

For New Year’s, peas and good will

Jerry Compton serves his mom’s venerable recipe for black-eyed peas to David Brooks on New Year’s Day at the Laurel Mills Store.

According to southern tradition, eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is thought to usher in prosperity. Mary Frances Fannon introduced the tradition to Laurel Mills more than a quarter-century ago, and this time the master-of-ceremonies and master-chef was Jerry Compton, using a recipe inherited from his mother — who used to run the Laurel Mills Store for Mary Frances when he was just a baby!

Luke Christopher | Rappahannock News
Mary Frances Fannon (also pictured here with Compton) started the tradition more than a quarter-century ago.

He followed the recipe to a T, and it was a delicious dish savored by a large crowd of new-year celebrants gathered under the bright January sunshine on the porch at Laurel Mills. It was a picture worthy of Norman Rockwell, the festivities celebrating not only the food, black-eyed peas served with cornbread and hot apple cider, but also the warmth and camaraderie of neighbors and friends.

The establishment is a beloved fixture in the tiny hamlet, flanked by a whimsical garden stocked by the  neighbors with all manner of happy statuary.

The black-eyed peas tradition, it is said, harkens back to the Civil War. One origin of the custom is associated with General William T. Sherman’s march of the Union Army, during which they pillaged the Confederates’ food supplies. Stories say peas and salted pork were said to have been left untouched, because of the belief that they were animal food unfit for human consumption. Southerners considered themselves lucky to be left with some supplies to help them survive the winter, and black-eyed peas evolved into a representation of good luck. In another Southern tradition, black-eyed peas were a symbol of emancipation for African-Americans who had previously been enslaved, and who after the Civil War were officially freed on New Year’s Day.

So it was with great reverence for a centuries old tradition that Laurel Mills residents and friends celebrated the coming of a brand new year and thank you Mary Frances for introducing the custom to Laurel Mills!!

Congrats to Bill and Malinda

Courtesy photo
Malinda Brakeman and Bill Fletcher of Sperryville ushered in the New Year with an engagement announcement.

In Rappahannock, the name Fletcher is synonymous with great accomplishment and success. Bill Fletcher’s family history spans more than a few centuries, and he is a standard bearer of generosity. Most recently, his foundation contributed to and indeed made possible the construction of a long-awaited Blue Ridge Heritage Project memorial, its stone chimney along U.S. 211 in Sperryville commemorating the hundreds of Rappahannock families whose ancestors were displaced, many forcibly, by the formation of the Shenandoah National Park.

And Malinda Brakeman of Flint Hill is synonymous with Rappahannock beauty and intelligence. She is a career woman and the mother of four beautiful daughters, one of whom recently entered the Marine Corps. Funny, warm and gracious, Malinda lights up a room as soon as she enters.

So it is no wonder she swept the indomitable Bill Fletcher, whose picture reportedly appears in the dictionary next to the definition of dedicated bachelor, off his feet. The couple ushered in the new year with news of their engagement and a destination wedding is planned this summer on the white-sand beaches of Costa Rica.

Congratulations to both of you, may you live long, happily basking in the warmth of your love for one another and that of the many of us who love you both.

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