Hoppin' John has a long history of bringing good luck!
The roots of Hoppin' John comes from West African black eyed pea stews or field pea stews. West African slow cooked bean stews are savory and delicious. In Africa, the whole unbroken black eyed peas in a stew represented wealth. He who has the most whole unbroken black eyed peas in their bowl, was destined to become the wealthiest of the tribe in the future!
Hoppin' John was a main staple African American food during the age of slavery. Beans and rice is easy to like and Hoppin' John soon became popular with the southern white folk in America some time in the 1800's. The Hoppin' John legend of how the person who had the most amount of unbroken black eyed peas in a bowl was to become rich, evolved into a good luck symbol. The importance of counting the whole unbroken black eyed peas in Hoppin' John became a thing of the past and anybody that ate a bowl of Hoppin' John became destined to have good luck and wealth in the future. Sometime in the 1800's Hoppin' John became a New Years Eve tradition. Those who ate Hoppin' John on New Years Eve were destined to have a lucky good year.
From Tennessee to Georgia, Hoppin' John's main ingredient, black eyed peas, became a symbol for bringing good luck in the new year. Low country Carolina cuisine features Hoppin' John as one its marquis plates of food. In South Carolina and Georgia, Hoppin' John is usually made with field peas, instead of black eyed peas. Carolina golden rice is part of this region's Hoppin' John. Field peas are not easy to get outside of the deep south and they are very different than black eyed peas.
Hoppin' John is now a traditional southern New Years Eve entree and it is soul food staple. Hoppin' John has filled many a belly with warm lucky comfort!
The Hoppin' John recipe changes from state to state in the American south. A Hoppin' John recipe can also change from one home to the next. Some people prefer rice in Hoppin' John. Some like no rice. Some like ham hocks or a pork chop in the recipe. Some prefer hog jowls. Some people like to add collard greens or turnip greens to the recipe.
The four required ingredients in Hoppin' John are ham or pork meat, black eyed peas, red beans or field peas, onion and hot chile pepper. Tomato is an optional ingredient. Some say rice is required, but it is not in every Hoppin' John recipe. Rice was not always available in Africa or America in the pre 1900's because is was a trade commodity.
Hoppin' John is a nice side dish for any holiday, especially Thanksgiving. I made a Tennessee style Hoppin' John recipe with rice and no greens for this recipe blog entry. Tennessee Hoppin' John is only mildly spicy and the black eyed peas are cooked long enough for a rich bean gravy to form, just like in Africa.
African bean stews simmered all day, so a person was lucky to find just a few whole unbroken black eyed peas in a bowl. It was not like a person had to count a hundred black eyed peas to become wealthy. Sometimes 4 or 5 unbroken black eyed peas took the prize and delivered a lucky winner!
Hoppin' John Recipe:
This recipe makes 1 large portion!
Cut a large thick piece of smoked hog jowl. (About 3 to 4 ounces.)
Heat a sauce pot over medium heat.
Add 2 pats of unsalted butter.
Add the piece of smoked hog jowl.
Saute until the hog jowl is thoroughly browned.
Add 1/3 cup of chopped onion.
Add 1/3 cup of mixed chopped red bell pepper and green bell pepper.
Add 1 thick sliced green serrano chile pepper.
Stir the ingredients, till the onions start to caramelize.
Add 2 1/3 cups of water.
Add 1 1/3 cups of rinsed cooked dried black eyed peas or rinsed canned black eyed peas.
Add sea salt and black pepper.
Add 1 pinch of marjoram.
Add 1 pinch thyme.
Add 2 pinches of paprika.
Add 1 pinch of cayenne pepper.
Bring the stew to a gentle boil.
Add 1/2 cup of brown rice. (Brown rice adds a rustic touch and a nutty rice flavor.)
Let the rice boil for 5 minutes.
Note: As the rice cooks, it is required to stir the stew occasionally to keep it from burning or sticking to the pan. Add a splash of water if necessary, if the stew becomes too thick.
Reduce the temperature to medium low heat.
Continue to simmer the stew, till most of the broth has either evaporated or soaked up by the rice.
Note: Over cooking the rice is more than acceptable for this version of Hoppin' John. Do not worry if the rice becomes soft. Some of the black eyed peas will turn to mush and become part of the "gravy." There should only be a small amount of extra gravy in the Hoppin' John, when the rice has finished cooking.
When the rice becomes tender and a thin bean stew gravy is formed, then the stew is ready.
Spoon the Hoppin' John into a shallow bowl and try to expose the piece of hog jowl on the surface.
The southern or soul food flavor of Hoppin' John is mildly spicy and savory from the hog jowl and black eyed peas. The smoked hog jowl meat is very tender after stewing and it has such a great flavor. This Hoppin' John recipe will make you feel warm and comfortable.
If you serve Hoppin' John on New Years Eve, be sure to count the whole black eyed peas in your bowl to see how wealthy you will be in the new year! The African roots of this recipe still have a way of bringing good luck and fortune. Delicious food for the soul! Yum! ... Shawna