Hoppin' John and Greens

Eating Hoppin’ John and greens is required in my family on New Year’s Day. We do it because it is not only good, it is necessary in carrying on the tradition from our ancestors and of enjoying the inheritance of cookery from long ago. This demonstration is a reflection on our way of life, we are not only proud of who we are and where we come from but equally proud of how we got to where we are today. To southerners, eating Hoppin’ John and greens on this special day is symbolic in hoping for good luck, fortune and prosperity in the coming year. Not that we are superstitious, we might be just a little cautious in observing these traditional rites. From the soil of our ancestors, roots run deep in the south as does the recipes and our lifestyle. Below are two interesting articles on the subject as well as my recipes for these two time-honored dishes. Enjoy!

Black-eyed peas, also called cow peas, are thought to have been introduced to America by African slaves who worked the rice plantations. Hoppin' John is a rich bean dish made of black-eyed peas simmered with spicy sausages, ham hocks, or fat pork, rice, and tomato sauce.
This African-American dish is traditionally a high point of New Year's Day, when a shiny dime is often buried among the black-eyed peas before serving. whoever get the coin in his or her portion is assured good luck throughout the year. For maximum good luck in the new year, the first thing that should be eaten on New year's Day is Hoppin' John. At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, many southern families toast each other with Champagne and a bowl of Hoppin' John. If it is served with collard greens you might, or might not, get rich during the coming year.
There are many variations to traditional Hoppin' John. Some cook the peas and rice in one pot, while others insist on simmering them separately. ~ from whatscookingamerica.net

There appear to be at least four reasons for calling it Hoppin' John. Although the commonest explanation is that in time past a host or hostess would say to a guest at the table, "Hop in, John," as one might say, "Go to it," that explanation doesn't ring true for me. Only a little more plausible is the story that children would hop around the holiday table playing a game and chanting a rhyme called "Hoppin' John." I find most interesting the story, reported by Raymond Sokolov, former Food Editor of the New York Times, that the dish goes back at least as far as 1841, when, according to oral tradition, it was hawked in the streets of Charleston, South Carolina, by a crippled black man who was known as Hoppin' John.

Etymologists dismiss all of the above stories, citing a Caribbean dish of rice and peas and salt pork called (in French) pois a pigeon, which is pronounced something like "pwahahpeejawng." They think it sounded like "hoppin john" to the ears of English speaking people and that the name caught on. Well, perhaps. However, there are no pigeon peas in the dish. There are black-eyed peas which resemble cow peas from Africa, and there is rice. Where does the French influence come in, let alone the French chef with the pigeon peas?
In fact, the dish appears to have African, or African-American roots, as the black-eyed pea is the seed of the cowpea, a delicacy in North Africa. According to a 1788 account, the food on slave ships was a combination of fava beans, yams, rice and possibly a bit of pork or other meat. When they got to America and were able to substitute black-eyed peas for the "horse beans" the slave traders served them, the Africans improved on the dish and it became popular. The earliest recipe I could find calls for hog jowl, and it was adapted by Raymond Sokolov from Rice Recipes, a cookbook available from The Rice Museum in Georgetown, South Carolina. ~ from Who Cooked That Up? by J.J. Schnebel

My Hoppin' John Recipe

Southern Black-Eyed Peas ~ A cure for superstitious New Year folks

1 smoked ham hock or ham bone
4 cups water
1/2 pound bacon -sliced 1-inch thick
1 large onion -chopped
1 large bell pepper -chopped
1 stalk celery -chopped
2 large cloves garlic -minced
1 pound smoked sausage links -cut in 1/2" pieces
3 -16 oz frozen black-eyed peas
2 medium bay leaves
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 -14.5 oz Rotel Extra Hot
1 tablespoon Cajun Seasoning
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme

In a large sauce-pot, simmer ham hock and water for an hour or until meat is falling off bone then strain liquid reserving the stock. Meanwhile, in a large stockpot, fry bacon until brown and remove the bacon, reserve. Add onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic and simmer until onion is translucent - add the reserved ham stock and simmer on very low while preparing the sausage. In the previous saucepan place sausage and 1/2 cup of water - simmer for 15 minutes to draw out the fat - remove the sausage and add it to the stockpot - discard this fat stock. In the large stockpot, add Rotel bringing to a boil - simmer for a few minutes and then add the peas and seasonings. Liquid should just cover the peas, if not add water - simmer on low for 1 1/2 hours stirring often to prevent sticking and until the peas are fully cook and stock is thick - you may need to remove a cup of peas and mash in order to achieve the thick consistency. Serve over white rice and top with chopped green onions.

Chop some of the cooked bacon and add it to the peas toward the end of cooking.

Willie’s Collards & Greens

This is how she made greens for us many times during the year. The “pot-likker” is a plus!

4 to 6 bunches of fresh collards
3 to 4 leaves of mustard greens
2 smoked ham hocks
6 slices of bacon
1 large onion -chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons seasoning salt
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Clean greens thoroughly to remove grit by washing several times in cold water. Remove the tougher stalks as needed. Chop greens into 1 to 2 inch squares. In a large stockpot fry bacon until fat is rendered and remove meat. Add to the grease 7 to 8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the remaining ingredients. Return to a boil and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the greens; bring to a boil for another 15 minutes. Check water level and continue simmering on medium low for 3 to 4 hours. Before serving, add more seasoning salt if needed and stir in the bacon.

Note: I like to add a jalapeƱo or two and a splash of red wine vinegar. I also cook turnip greens this way. Be sure to soak up the 'likker' with cornbread.


  1. I love the collard and ham hocks, the smell of this cooking is awesome in the house, they only thing we add to this is potatoes, love this dish delish, happy new year and may you have a wonderful 2010 looking forward to sharing more of your wonderful recipes together!

  2. I've only heard of Hoppin John. Good to hear the history. A Hoppin New Year to you!

  3. Hoppin' John sounds delicious!

  4. Really interesting post! You know I love my black eyed peas ... I wonder if the alleged French influence with the name of the dish comes in somehow via New Orleans?

  5. Hopin' your hoppin' John is the luckiest hoppin' John ever...Happy New Year food friend!

  6. Hey Drick! Thanks for the recipe. I've not cooked a lot of greens in my life and I'm getting them by the bucket loads in my csa. Have a great day!


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