Happy Hoppin’ John Time!

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Verse:  Save now, we beseech You, O Lord; send now prosperity, O Lord, we beseech You, and give to us success!  Psalms 118:25(Ampl. Bible)

It’s New Year’s Day, and in a short while, probably between college football games, I’ll begin preparing a meal that’s been a family tradition for years, Hoppin’ John.  According to my mom, Grandpa Zach began serving Hoppin’ John to his family on New Year’s Day.  He believed eating it would bring more luck, money and prosperity to them in the coming year.

This is a tradition I carry on to this day.  I decided to do some research on Hoppin’ John, and discovered its roots began in Southern states during the mid’ 1800’s.  One story behind the unusual name recalls how an old man named John hobbled through Charleston selling rice and peas.  But, most historians believe Hoppin’ John is actually derived  from the French term for dried peas, “pois pigeons.”

Here are the main components of Hoppin’ John.  Black-eyed peas are the star ingredient in this scrumptious concoction.  The peas symbolize pennies or coins,  and part of the ritual is placing a coin either in the pot, or under your bowl.  I prefer the “under the bowl” method, since there’s less risk of accidentally ingesting the coin.  I use a penny, and have too much respect for Lincoln, one of my favorite presidents, to put him through that particular ordeal.  Eating peas is believed to bring both prosperity and luck.  Rice, another component, represents good health, along with pork, thought to bring even more luck.  Here, I’m a divergent, preferring to use smoked turkey sausage in place of ham or bacon.  I think it tastes better.  Hopefully, this minor alteration won’t diminish the luck factor, and might positively benefit my health.  Along with black-eyed peas and rice, greens are served alongside the main dish.  Apparently, any type of greens work, as long as they are, well, green,  the color of currency, and represent wealth.  Mac and cheese, for instance, though served in many Southern restaurants as a vegetable side, won’t work, unless, of course, they’re green.  And, if they are green, better eat more rice for better health!

Like Sandra Lee, I opt for semi-homemade recipes, emphasis on the semi, not homemade.  I generally slice up some smoked turkey sausage, and sauté it in a pan with a little oil.  Then, I add some chopped onion, and sauté them together until the sausage begins to brown.  Next, I drain a can of black-eyed peas, usually flavored with jalapenos for extra spice, and add it to the pot.  I then add rice, and love using microwavable rice, for ease, choosing a wild-rice, brown blend, for more interest and flavor.  Next, stir, and the Hoppin’ John is done.  I like collards as my green accompaniment.  My mom always serves spinach, another flavorful choice.  There are some wonderful canned preseasoned collards available, like Margaret Holmes.  They’re absolutely delicious, and inexpensive, too.  Last, I use a boxed cornbread mix, Jiffy cornbread, that’s cheap, fifty cents a box, simple, with a slightly sweet flavor that perfectly complements the rest of the meal.  Of course, you could make everything from scratch, and some may derive pleasure from doing so.  Not me.  So, in an effort to at least begin the year on a positive and peaceful note, I choose the easy preparation method listed above.  The only thing left to do is sit down to a lovely, comforting meal, absolutely perfect for chasing the hangover/blues away.

I love eating Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day, a tradition passed down from my grandfather.  As far as I can figure, I’ve had it every year for over fifty years.  I wouldn’t be surprised if my mom served pureed black-eyed peas to me as a baby.  And, even though my brother Rich is not a big fan of them, he manages to ingest at least one of these lucky, coin-like peas on New Year’s Day, figuring a little luck is better than none.  All this talk about Hoppin’ John is making me hungry.  I better get to cooking.  And, whether or not I’m more prosperous, I’m definitely more satisfied.

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