When I was growing up, we always had ham for Christmas dinner. We’d eat off of the ham for the next week and save the hock for our New Year’s meal. My dad Frank always made a big pot of Hoppin’ John – black-eyed peas, onions, green pepper and greens seasoned with the ham hock.
Tradition holds that when eaten on New Year’s Day, Hoppin’ John brings good luck. The rice signifies abundance for the coming year, while peas – specifically black-eyed peas – are thought to bring wealth in the form of coins. Collard greens, a classic Hoppin’ John partner, represent dollar bills. Pork also plays an important role in the dish, and it’s for more than just flavor. Hogs can’t look back, so pork represents the future.
Most food historians generally agree that “Hopping John” is an American dish with African/French/Caribbean roots. There are many tales or legends that explain how Hoppin’ John got its name:
- It was the custom for children to gather in the dining room as the dish was brought forth and hop around the table before sitting down to eat.
- A man named John came “a-hoppin” when his wife took the dish from the stove.
- An obscure South Carolina custom was inviting a guest to eat by saying, “Hop in, John”
- The dish goes back at least as far as 1841, when, according to tradition, it was hawked in the streets of Charleston, South Carolina by a crippled black man who was know as Hoppin’ John.
We usually omitted the rice and had a side of cornbead with our meal. It sure is good and even better the next day!
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large ham hock
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup celery, chopped
- 1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed
- 1 quart water
- Bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon dry thyme leaves
- Salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper and cayenne pepper
- Collards, chard, kale or other greens
- 3 cups steamed white rice or cornbread
Heat oil in a large soup pot, add the ham hock and sear on all sides for 4 minutes. Add the onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic, cook for 4 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas, chopped greens, water, bay leaf, thyme, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the peas are creamy and tender, stirring occasionally. If the liquid evaporates, add more water or stock. Adjust seasonings. Serve over rice or with cornbread on the side.
- One cup flour
- ¾ cup cornmeal
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- One cup milk
- One egg, beaten
- Two tablespoons melted vegetable shortening
Preheat oven to 450°F. Stir together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix the milk, egg and shortening together and add to the dry ingredients, blend well. Pour into a greased 8″ square pan and bake for about 20 minutes. Cool and cut into squares.
Eat poor on New Year’s Day, eat rich the rest of the year.