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Down at the Crossroads

Black-eyed peas soup

Cultural Perspectives

By Tim Hazell

The legend of Faust might best exemplify the concept of a pact with the devil, but such a bargain is also a cultural motif common to many Christian folk tales. The protagonist seeks eternal youth, wealth, or status. The price is the wagerer’s soul. In this dramatic vignette, Jesus’ words imply a journey of suffering foretold by proclaimers of the will of God. Judas Iscariot is at the crossroads, aware that his betrayal of Jesus will be impossible to prevent:

“Simon Peter saith unto him, ‘Tell us who it is of whom he speaketh.’ Jesus therefore answered, ‘He it is, for whom I shall dip the sop, and give it him.’ So when he had dipped the sop, he taketh and giveth it to Judas, and Judas, who betrayed him, answered and said, “Is it I, Rabbi?” Jesus saith unto him, ‘Thou hast said.’”

Great achievements have been credited to a pact, from the violin virtuosity of Niccolò Paganini to the “crossroad” myth associated with Robert Leroy Johnson (1911-1938). Legend has it that this master of Delta blues made his own journey to the crossroads to trade his soul for guitar wizardry. Johnson’s premonitions surface in these lyrics.

“Hellhound On My Trail”

I gotta keep movin’
Blues fallin’ down like hail
And the days keeps on worryin’ me
There’s a hellhound on my trail…

Johnson asks to make his guitar strings bay like the hellhound. “I gotta have that sound, Devil-man. Where do I sign?” Devil replies, “Your word is good enough, but you better be prepared.” Johnson: “Prepared for what, Devil-man?” Devil: “You know where you are, Robert Johnson? You’re standing in the middle of the crossroads. Your soul will belong to me.”

Confessin’ the blues? Here’s classic Southern comfort!

Chicken and Black-Eyed Pea Soup
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into bite-size pieces
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. red chili flakes
1 large red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, sliced
2 ribs celery, sliced
2 tsp. sage
2 tsp. thyme
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 tsp. salt (to taste)
Ground black pepper
2 15 oz. cans black-eyed peas (or substitute beans), drained
1 cup shredded spinach
Parsley garnish

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Season chicken pieces with a little salt and pepper, brown lightly and set aside. Add chili flakes, sizzle, then red onion, garlic, carrot, and celery. Cook for about five minutes, stirring frequently, to deglaze the pan and soften vegetables. Add sage and thyme. Return the chicken pieces. Add chicken/vegetable stock, water, salt, and pepper. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add black-eyed peas and cook for a further five minutes. When ready to serve, place 1/4 of the spinach in the bottom of each bowl. Top with soup and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with crusty bread or cornbread muffins.


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