New Year; Same Hoppin' John Tradition
Even before the Christmas decorations are stowed away or the resolutions take effect, Southerners welcome the New Year with a bowl of hoppin' John, the iconic Lowcountry dish consisting of field peas (typically black-eyed or red peas) and rice. Folklore says that eating field peas, especially with a side of greens, brings good fortune in the year ahead—the peas symbolize coins, while leafy greens represent dollar bills.
Long before it was a holiday tradition, hoppin' John was a humble everyday meal. Like many treasured Southern recipes, its roots can be traced back to West Africa, where rice and cowpeas were grown and eaten. Some food experts believe that West African slaves who were brought to the Lowcountry paired the two ingredients to make a nourishing dish that also reminded them of home. Early recipes were nothing fancy. The one for "Hopping John" (the "g" fell off many years later) in The Carolina Housewife, which was originally published in 1847 by Sarah Rutledge, calls for "one pound of bacon, one pint of red peas, one pint of rice" all thrown together in the same pot.
The creative cooks in our Test Kitchen have developed dozens of new interpretations of the recipe over the years, including Hoppin' John Soup with Cornbread Croutons and "Big Easy" Gumbo served with a scoop of hoppin' John on top. That last one, however, was not well received by gumbo and black-eyed pea purists alike.
WATCH: Hoppin' John Soup
This January, we're going back to basics by focusing on technique and ingredients. Even if you aren't the superstitious type, hoppin' John is a filling and comforting meal that hits the spot on a cold winter day. It's a simple pleasure after a month of holiday indulgences.
The ABC's of Hoppin' John
Thick-cut bacon adds the right amount of smokiness; a ham hock can overpower the dish.
Fresh or frozen black-eyed peas hold up best after a lengthy simmer. Lowcountry cooks prefer using Sea Island red peas.
Carolina Gold, an heirloom long-grain type, has a sweet, mild flavor and a toothsome texture.