Are your Black Eyed Peas Cookin’?

Black Eyed Peas by mfhiatt on Flickr.  Used under the granted Creative Commons 2.0 No Commercial, Share Alike, Attribution license granted.

Black Eyed Peas by mfhiatt on Flickr. Used under the granted Creative Commons 2.0 No Commercial, Share Alike, Attribution license granted.

There are traditions in areas of the country that don’t translate nationally. Just like there are words that are regional – a knit cap can be a toboggan, toque (my favorite word for it), bob hat, sock cap, tossle, cora cap, stocking hat, or beanie all depending on where you are in the US.   I’ve enjoyed adopting various traditions of areas we have lived.

One that I was raised with was the tradition of black-eyed peas and hogs jowl for New Year’s Day meal.  The tradition goes – if you keep count of how many black-eyed peas you eat that day each will turn into an extra dollar in your pocket the following year.  Sadly, I could never keep count. Don’t freak out about hog jowl it’s just like a thick cut bacon.   Honestly when I’ve needed a substitute living where that’s not a tradition I’ve gotten thick cut bacon and couldn’t tell the difference.  So if you want you can do that.

Mike had no traditional New Year’s Day food.  Only tradition he had was to mock the other tradition my family had – watching the Rose Parade. Since I’ve married him, I’ve never watched a parade on TV in peace.  Still I could make the traditional dinner for New Year;s Day and we’d toast the year in with champagne back when we stayed up to midnight.

Then we moved to Charleston and the traditional New Year’s Day meal was expanded.  There it was Hoppin’ John you ate.  That’s black eyed peas, rice, and salted pork.  Debb over at Sunshine Factor posted a great recipe for the traditional meal.  This was a more flavorful way to do the tradition than just beans and bacon.  So I adopted Hoppin’ John and tweaked it to be a bit healthier –  used lean cuts of ham or turkey ham, upped the veggies and enjoyed getting the fiber of the peas.

Actually we’ve had Hoppin’ John every year since.  We’ve introduced people to the tradition complete with the challenge of counting peas for dollars in the new year.  I have to say even the skeptics walked away Hoppin’ John lovers.  It’s a tasty dish, that just fills you up and has almost a comfort food effect.  I think we might have started a new tradition in a few homes along our moves since Charleston.

Now Hoppin’ John is a beloved dish in the Low Country (Charleston area of South Carolina) much like She-Crab Soup and 7-Bean soup.  It’s a warm meal and Charleston summers are very hot and humid (It’s said you shower in April and dry off in December).  So making the beloved dish in the hot summer doesn’t suit.  However, when we lived there the morning newspaper in Charleston (then they had two) solved the problem by posting a Hoppin’ John Salad recipe for the summer months -a cool tasty dish based on the beloved recipe.  I make it every summer and we enjoy the heck out of it.  It’s become a tradition at our house for cook outs in the summer months.  Since Debb shared the basic Hoppin John I’ll share the salad…

HOPPIN’ JOHN SALAD

2 cans (14.5 oz each ) reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 cup uncooked long grain rice

1 can (15 to 16 oz) black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed

1 cup diced red and/or yellow bell pepper

1 cup thinly sliced celery

3/4 cup thinly sliced scallions

1/2 cup herb or Italian vinaigrette salad dressing

In a medium saucepan, bring broth and 1/4 cup of water to a boil.  Stir in the rice. Cover pan, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until rice is tender and all broth is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

In a very large mixing bowl combine black eyed peas, bell pepper, celery, and scallions.  Add warm rice and vinaigrette.  Stir gently to combine.  Chill for 12 hours to allow for marination.  Serve.

Yields 6 main dish servings or 10 side dish servings.

Now you’ve got two recipes for a New Year’s Tradition be you in a cold climate or a hot one. Let me tell you that Hoppin’ John has many variations – each home puts their own spin on the dish. The main core of it is a flavorful black eyed pea and rice dish usually with pork, but in some homes it’s not. I’d suggest taking the basic recipe to follow for the first time then add what you think would make it better for your family. True Southern Cooking isn’t about following recipes but instead about cooking flavorful dishes that vary from cook to cook. If you’ve ever been to a covered dish dinner south of the Mason Dixon you know what I’m talking about. There maybe four green beans there and each one is different and delicious. So customize! It’s expected. The recipe is only a starting guideline not an absolute this isn’t chemistry!

Now the question is how did it get its name? Honestly no one knows. The origin of the dish is American but there are strong African, French, and Caribbean roots to it. At least that’s what the food historians tell me and from tasting variations with pineapple and tomatoes in them I’d agree. Some forms definitely have a strong Creole flare. The tradition is the first man to hawk the dish in the streets of Charleston was a Freeman called Hoppin’ John due to his peg leg. Another tradition is that to share a meal the African family would tell you to Hop In and John is just the John Doe fill in for a name. Finally the last one I’ve heard is that children would hop around the table in anticipation of the tradition and to get the luck from it as it was served.

Ahh the luck – I’ve shared my family’s tradition of counting the beans. Another variation is to serve it with greens (Collard, mustard, turnip doesn’t matter) and the more you eat of greens with the beans the more greenback and coins you’ll get in the new year. Still another tradition that’s more toward Louisiana than South Carolina is placing a shiny dime in the dish. Whoever gets the dime in their serving gets the best luck in the New Year. No matter if you count beans, eat greens, hide a dime, or just eat Hoppin’ John it’s said to bring good luck for the year. So I figure what’s the harm the new year can use all the luck it can get and I love seasoned beans and rice!

Ours this year will be vegetarian but served with greens, cornbread, and thick cut bacon.  Pictures will be posted at Flickr, G+ and thus feed to Twitter and Facebook.  So keep an eye out for our good luck!

Until next time!

2 thoughts on “Are your Black Eyed Peas Cookin’?

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