What is Hoppin' John and Why Do You Need It in Your Life?
If you haven't eaten or heard of this awesome stuff, you've really been missing out. A few years back, my mom stumbled upon a magazine article about Hoppin' John, and we've had it for dinner every New Year's Day since. It has become something to look forward to every January 1st, as if beginning a new calendar year isn't enough on its own.
So... What is it?
In its most basic form, Hoppin' John is composed of pork, peas, and rice. Specifics can vary, such as the vegetables and pork used, but black-eyed peas are a traditional staple (even though they aren't really peas). This southern tradition has been gracing tables since the 1840s. The dish is meant to bring luck, wealth, and peace in the new year to those who eat it. Pork and black eyed-peas were thought to bring luck, and black-eyed peas symbolized wealth as well. Kale or collard greens are often included in the dish as a symbol of paper money, and "gold" corn bread is typically served as a side. You're pretty much starting off the new year with a bowl of metaphorical money, which is awesome. If you want to get literal, you can put a penny underneath each bowl to enhance the wealth-earning potential of your Hoppin' John. If you add tomatoes, you get the added benefit of prosperous health in the next year.
How do I make it?
Debatably the best part of Hoppin' John is how easy it is to make (check it out here). In case you're hungover and don't want to cook at all on New Year's Day, I suggest making making the dish ahead of time and heat it up on the stove while you're getting ready to eat. It's essentially a stew, so all it really takes is some chopping, simmering, and seasoning. Although adding more ingredients won't necessarily have the same effect as the penny, there is plenty of room to take creative liberties when cooking. You can add bell pepper, jalapenos, garlic, onions, bacon, Tabasco... pretty much whatever you want. If you're vegetarian or vegan, leave out the pork and use vegetable stock (here's a vegan cornbread recipe, too!). Don't worry, you'll still get the luck and wealth benefits.
Why is it called "Hoppin' John?"
Long story short: nobody really knows. Tradition states that an old man in Charleston who people called Hoppin' John sold peas and rice on the streets. Another origin says that children would hop around the dining room table in excitement before sitting down to eat the delicious dish. Maybe an obsolete southern custom is inviting in guests by saying "hop in, John." We'll leave it up to your discretion to pick your favorite spin on the story.
Whether you're looking for a prosperous new year or just need a simple but hearty meal, Hoppin' John should be your new go-to. No matter how you choose to customize it, you've got the benefit of good food, luck, and (fingers crossed!) good fortune. Kudos to The South for this one - it's definitely worthy of a try. Happy New Year.