How to Make Hoppin' John
If you're looking for a delicious, traditional dish to serve on New Year's Day, look no further than Hoppin' John. Strange name aside, this savory rice and bean main dish will not only satisfy your hunger, but according to U.S. southern folklore, will guarantee good luck and prosperity through the coming year.
Hoppin' John is considered a southern tradition in the United States. However, as someone who spent the first 28 years of her life in Mississippi, and all of her 56 years in the south, I have to admit that I first heard about this dish only within the last ten years. My sister served it to us one New's Year Day and, when my bean/pea-hating Yankee husband and my picky-palated child both liked it, it became a new tradition at our house.
Who is John and Why is He Hoppin'?
The development of Hoppin' John into the traditional Southern New Year's meal has a rich history. Around 500 AD, the Talmud listed black-eyed peas as a dish to serve during Rosh Hoshana, the Jewish New Year, as a symbol of good luck. Sephardi Jews came to the U.S. and settled in Georgia in the mid-1700's. The Jewish practice of eating black-eyed peas for luck on New Year's Day was adopted by non-Jews around the time of the American Civil War.
Also contributing to the development of Hoppin' John was that this dish is very similar to traditional African rice and bean dishes. Slaves undoubtedly introduced the African version of this dish to the southern U.S.
Also in the mix, beans were eaten on New Year's Day in France and Spain during the Middle Ages. French and Spanish settlers in the U.S. most likely brought this tradition over with them. The various origins of eating black-eyed peas for luck on New Year's has melded over the years to produce the southern USA traditional dish we have today.
As with any good piece of folklore, the origin of the name Hoppin' John is a little vague. According to Linda Stradley at What's Cooking America, there are a number of theories:
- Children used to hop around the table prior to sitting down to eat this dish.
- A man named John used to come "a-hoppin' " when his wife served him this meal.
- There was a South Carolina saying of "Hop in, John" to invite guests to sit down for a meal.
- In the mid-1800's, a crippled black man named Hoppin' John used to sell a version of this dish on the streets of Charleston, SC.
Eating Hoppin' John for Good Luck
Eating Hoppin' John on New Year's Day is supposed to bring good luck and prosperity throughout the coming year. The peas symbolize coins, and sometimes a coin was put into the pot to bring extra luck to the person who found it in their bowl (sounds like a trip to the emergency room to me!). A safer version is to hide a coin under the person's bowl. Also, the beans swell when they cook, indicatng growth and prosperity. Hoppin' John is frequently served with cornbread, whose golden color symbolizes wealth.
Hoppin' John has evolved into many different regional permutations - which one ends up being your favorite is all a matter of taste. So gather up your ingredients and try this version of Hoppin' John to cook up a year of good fortune for you and your family!
- Olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 large bell pepper, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 2 tablespoons minced prepared garlic
- 4 cups chicken stock or water
- 1 pound smoked sausage (Conecuh recommended), chopped in 1-inch chunks
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 1 pound dry black-eyed peas (soaked)
- Bay leaves
- Red pepper, to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3 cups cooked brown rice
Sauté the chopped onion, bell pepper and celery in olive oil until the onions are tender and clear. Add garlic and cook for another minute or so, being careful not to burn the garlic.
Transfer sauted ingredients to a large stockpot. Add stock (or water), sausage, tomatoes, peas, and seasonings. Cover and let simmer on low heat for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
Serve in bowls over brown rice.
Makes 10-12 servings.