Lowcountry New Year

Across the South,  hundreds of thousands of people will sit down  on New Year’s day to a traditional dish that remains much the same at the beginning of the 21st century as it was at the beginning of the 18th century.

Hoppin’ John is traditional New Year’s Day fare in the Carolinas. Families who call shotgun shacks home and those who live in the finest Charleston, S.C., mansions eat Hoppin’ John alike: with relish. The reason? Southern tradition has it that anyone who eats Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day will have good financial luck during the year, especially if they also eat it with collard greens.

No one is sure where  the name originated, and the sources I consulted offered a range of guesses. One said it was because traditionally children hopped around the table once before sitting down for the New Year’s feast. Probably a more accurate guess, which also offers an origin, is that the dish originated in the Caribbean islands, and that the name Hoppin’ John is a corruption of the French “pois a’ pigeon” which when pronounced in the Creole manner sounds very much like Hoppin’ John.
So, what is Hoppin’ John, you ask?
Hoppin’ John is a one-dish meal with its origins in the South Carolina Lowcountry. It probably originated in pre-Civil War slave cabins on rice and indigo plantations. It is composed of black-eyed peas, rice and seasonings flavored with pork. The type of pork a family used depended on the financial well-being of the folks making the Hoppin’ John; the more well-off they were, the better the cut of pork. Some people ate ham in theirs, others hog jowls. Some folks simply have to have an onion added to theirs, while others will view this as grounds to open fire on the infidel who suggested this heresy.
According to tradition, Hoppin’ John often has a dime cooked with it. The person who gets the dime on their plate is supposed to have plenty of money in the New Year. The collard greens served with Hoppin’ John are supposed to represent greenback dollars.
You can make Hoppin’ John with fresh, dried or frozen black-eyed peas, but stay clear of the canned ones — canned black-eyed peas are too mushy.  If you are using fresh peas, wash them and allow them to soak for a while in water. Then change the water before cooking.  You can use either black-eyed peas or chick peas — I prefer the taste of the black-eyed peas in the dish.
Traditionally, the side dishes for Hoppin’ John are greens of any variety, and a cake of corn bread. If you’re cooking greens for the first time, take my advice and wash them thoroughly under running water or soak them in several changes of fresh water to remove all the grit and dirt that inevitably comes attached to the greens. If you don’t, they will be inedible.

New Years Day Black Eyed Peas on Foodista

Hoppin’ John

Collard Greens


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