America is a melting pot that was formed by the hard-working people who migrated here from lands as far east as China and Japan, as far north as Russia and Europe. They utilized American supplies and prepared them in ways that they had prepared them in their homeland.
True American food is a collection of these culinary traditions passed down from generation to generation”.Each culture brought its cooking methods, food, and spices to America. They farmed the soil, hunted game, and incorporated their ways into the food of America.
Hoppin’ John: A New Year’s Tradition
Forget champagne—in the Southern United States, Hoppin’ John is standard New Year’s fare. This simple dish of peas, pork, and rice has been a tradition since the 1800s. It’s believed to bring luck and peace in the coming year to anyone who eats it.
The first recipes for Hoppin’ John appear in cookbooks that date back to the 1840s, although the mixture of dried peas, rice, and pork was made by Southern slaves long before then. It seems to have originated in the Low Country of South Carolina, an area where plantation owners searched long and hard for a crop that would flourish in the hot, muggy weather. Rice grew well in the river deltas, so it was a natural choice, but the white farmers had no real experience with cultivating rice on a large scale until enslaved West Africans who had grown rice for generations arrived in America.
Although any type of dried peas can be used for Hoppin’ John, the black-eyed pea is the most traditional. This pea happens to have been domesticated in West Africa, which led to the belief that African slaves took the peas with them, planted them in their new surroundings, and created a dish that would remind them of their lost homes. This is probably only partly true. Newly abducted Africans were lucky to have clothes on their backs, and they certainly weren’t encouraged or even allowed to bring sacks of planting grain along with them. What is more likely is that slave traders saw black-eyed peas as an economical and easy way to feed their cargo.
The origins of the name “Hoppin’ John” are slightly less clear. Some say an old, hobbled man called Hoppin’ John became known for selling bowls of peas and rice on the streets of Charleston. Others say slave children hopped around the table in eager anticipation of the dish. Most food historians think the name derives from a French term for dried peas, “pois pigeons.”
It’s also uncertain why the dish became associated with New Year’s and good luck. The most likely story is that slaves would often have the period between Christmas and New Year’s off since no crops were growing at that time. Hoppin’ John was, and still is, often eaten with collard greens, which can resemble paper money and “golden” cornbread. The peas themselves represent coins. Some families boost the potential of their Hoppin’ John by placing a penny underneath the dishes—or adding extra pork, which is thought to bring more luck.
One tradition common in the United States is that each person at the meal should leave three peas on their plate to ensure that the New Year will be filled with luck, fortune, and romance. Another tradition holds that counting the number of peas in a serving predicts the amount of luck (or wealth) that the diner will have in the coming year.
This dish is traditionally a high point of New Year’s Day when a shiny dime is often buried among the black-eyed peas before serving.Whoever gets the coin in his or her portion is assured good luck throughout the year. For maximum good luck in the new year, the first thing that should be eaten on New Year’s Day is Hoppin’ John. If you eat leftover Hoppin’ John the day after New Year’s Day, then the name changes to Skippin’ Jenny since one is demonstrating their determination of frugality. Eating a bowl of Skippin’ Jenny is believed to even better your chances for a prosperous New Year!
Source: Beyond Black-Eyed Pease: New Year’s good-luck foods, by Mick Bann, Dec. 26,2008, Austin Chronicle.
Recipe for Hoppin’ John
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small ham hock or bone
4 celery stalks, sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 small green bell pepper, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
3 garlic cloves, chopped (about 1 Tablespoon)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
8 cups lower-sodium chicken or ham broth
4 cups fresh or frozen black-eyed peas
For the rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups uncooked Carolina Gold rice
½ teaspoon salt
Fresh scallions, sliced
Heat oil in a large pot. Add celery, onion, bell pepper, garlic, thyme, black pepper, cayenne, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender, about 8 minutes. Add broth and black-eyed peas and bring to a boil over medium-high. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until peas are tender about 40 minutes. Drain pea mixture, reserving cooking liquid. Return pea mixture and 1 cup of the cooking liquid to the pot. Cover to keep warm; set aside.
To cook the rice
Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high. Add rice and cook, stirring often, until fragrant and lightly toasted, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in 3 cups of the reserved cooking liquid and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to medium-low; cover and cook until rice is tender, 15 to 18 minutes. Fluff rice with a fork, and gently stir into pea mixture in the Dutch oven. Stir in the remaining cooking liquid, 1⁄4 cup at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Sprinkle servings with parsley and sliced fresh scallions.