A Hoppin' John New Year

Monday, December 31, 2012

It's almost a new year and I'm back.  I would apologize for the long absence, however, I was focusing on bringing my husband to the U.S. from western Canada.  I cannot be sorry for that. :)

I did make it back before the new year and that should count for something, right?


Now, let's talk about Hoppin' John.  If you grew up in the South, like I did, I am sure you are familiar with the custom of eating black-eyed peas and greens on New Year's Day. My Canadian Celt of a husband thought I was joking when I started talking about preparing this meal. "Isn't black-eyed peas a band?  And what  in the world are collard greens?"  Much to my surprise, he is not the only one who seems to be somewhat in the dark.  Many, many of my southern friends and family seem to have no idea why this meal is consumed, outside of it having become a cultural/social holiday norm.  Year after year they prepare and partake with no thought as to why.  

The first historical account of Hoppin' John appears in Frederick Law Olmsted's A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States written in 1856.  It is commonly believed that Hoppin' John is a combination of French and African culinary influence and superstitions.  During the early years of slavery, Southern plantation owners discovered that rice grew quiet well and could easily turn a profit.  As a result, slave traders brought over West Africans who were experience in the cultivation of rice beds. Soon they also began to import black-eyed peas from the same region.  With rice, black-eyed peas,  and strong memories of home, West African slaves began preparing Hoppin' John.     

The tradition of consuming black-eyed peas and greens is said to bring luck to the diner. Today, the peas represent coins or money, financial luck.  The greens being...well... green,  the color of money represent the same. Cornbread, representing gold, is often used to sop up the juices for extra luck.  Several variations of the tradition have developed over the years.  Some say that you should place a coin into the pot for good luck.  Some say that you should place a coin under each dish.  Others say that you should leave three peas on your plate for wealth, romance, and health.  Still others say that you should count the amount of peas in your serving to determine how lucky you will be in the coming year.   Our tradition is to use Hoppin' John as part of our ritual offering to Marie Laveau and High John the Conqueror along with petitions for the coming year.  

 Marie Laveau's Hoppin' John

1 lb. Black-Eyed Peas
8 slices Bacon, cut into fourths
1 1/2 cups Onions, finely chopped
1 cup celery, finely chopped
½cup bell pepper finely chopped
2 1/2 quarts water
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon Thyme
1 Bay Leaf
1/8 teaspoon Rosemary
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
2 cups raw Rice

Soak black-eyed peas overnight in water. Fry bacon in a heavy skillet until crisp. Add 1 1/2 cups onions, and cook until the onions are transparent. Add 2 1/2 quarts water, bring to boil. Add garlic cloves, thyme, bay leaf, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Drain peas and add the boiling mixture. Barely simmer mixture, partially covered, for 1 1/2 hour. Add 2 cups raw rice. 
Please note that there are hundred's of variation on Hoppin' John.  Personally, I prefer adding cayenne pepper and insist on red onions.  Two reasons 1) I like it HOT! :) 2) Red is often associated with luck, fast luck in particular. A quick google search will help you find a recipe that appeals to you.  Just keep in mind that rice, peas, and pork are the staples. 

Wishing wealth, health, and prosperity from our house to yours!

Happy New Year!


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estetik said...

Good post with great explanation. Way of writing and convincing is glorious. Eyes on the topic like Arjun’s eyes. Seriously I never read this kind of post ever.

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