Hoppin’ John is not the guy who just got the hot foot from his prankster friends standing down on the corner of Fifth and Main. Hoppin’ John is the Southern United States version of the rice and beans dish or combination that is derived from West Africa. Its most common iteration is rice with black eye peas (or field peas) with chopped onion and sliced bacon, topped with more salt just for good measure. In the U.S., people use ham hocks or fatback for a more smokey flavor. Some areas also use green peppers, vinegar and spices.
Much like a Japanese tradition (Shogatsu) on New Year’s Day, Hoppin’ John is thought to bring a prosperous year filled with luck. The Japanese azuki beans, flavored with chestnuts, are a cultural equivalent. The peas symbolize coins to such an extent that sometimes a coin is added to the pot or left under the dinner bowls. I guess that’s one way to get your daily copper requirement. In Europe’s Middle Ages, the tradition of eating beans signified a year of good luck.
Another southern tradition is to leave three peas on the plate or bowl to assure that the new year will indeed, be full of luck, romance, and fortune. Of course, other beans and rice dishes are common to both the South, as well as places like Hawaii (chili and rice), and Central and South America (black beans and rice).
What do you think?
Black eyed peas were thought to have arrived in the Americas with the slaves from Africa. It must have been a very gassy ship. As the dish matured, ham hocks, pork fat, and tomato sauce was added to make it heartier. Some people cook everything together, while some cook the rice and beans separately, as we do here on the West Coast. Even the fancy TV chefs like, Emeril have made Hoppin’ John on their shows. Perhaps they play the song, “Desperado” when they prepare it!
I have never been a big fan of black-eyed peas. I have eaten them in Atlanta at Merry Mac’s Tea Room, and in St. Louis at Po’ Folks, as well as Bob Evans in the midwest. But I am hoping that the version here in Charleston is more palatable. I hear collard greens are added here in the Low Country or Carolinas. I also expect to find Okra gumbo, shrimp and grits, deep-fried anything, and coconut cream pie. Better yet, I hear Poogan’s Porch serves it with pulled pork, fried catfish, and Carolina crab cake. That sounds much better to me!
We, of course, arrived three hours late, with a plane delay in Chicago. Our little puddle jumper to Charleston had a flat tire. We had to deplane, load up again, a real fiasco. But we are here in the lap of luxury. We had dinner at Blossom last night. Great fish and also a hearty ham and white bean soup to get ready for Hoppin’. And would you believe the coffee joint this morning is called City Lights Coffee, named for City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco? I thought I saw the ghost of Ken Kesey outside in the psychedelic colored bus.