Don't risk bad luck by skipping hoppin' john

December 30, 2009 

The time between Christmas Day and New Year's Day seems to be all about closing up, putting up and looking back as you prepare to usher in a new year. That time comes so quickly, and there's shopping to be done for special holiday foods.

There's nothing like Christmas when it comes to food variety. You've got turkey, chicken, ham, chitterlings, greens, candied yams and eggnog. It is the time for fruitcake, sweet potato pone, peppermint stick ice cream and pound cakes. There is no other time when one wants to taste it all and enjoy every morsel of food. It is the time of year when everyone invites everyone else to come over and enjoy, and everyone wants to be together.

But New Year's Day is different. Festivities begin with New Year's Eve. No, not just the night itself, but the day leading up to the evening, when everyone is shopping for peas and collard greens. The menu is plain and simple for New Year's Day. It is carved in stone and even if generations try to change things, very little gets done. It seems to go back to the basic black-eyed peas, collards, hog jowls and cornbread. And here in the Lowcountry, it's the time for hoppin' john.

In the cookbook "Mrs. Whaley Entertains," Emily Whaley tells about hoppin' john, the dish made with cowpeas, bacon and rice -- a must for New Year's Day. For one particular New Year's Day, Whaley wanted to leave the hoppin' john -- the food that brings the luck -- off the menu. She decided to plan a nice buffet and have fried chicken and all the great additions that go with a Southern meal.

Well, it turned out that her dog grabbed a chicken leg from the buffet, a friend tried to get the chicken leg from the dog, and the dog bit the friend.

The dog had not had his rabies shot, and the friend became ill. Everyone was upset. The dog had to be quarantined until everyone was sure he wasn't rabid.

There was no hoppin' john served that New Year's Day and there was no luck.

But Whaley's bitten friend survived, the dog was OK and that was the last time there was no hoppin' john served on New Year's Day. One does not take a chance on luck.

There's not another day when a menu can be so simple and so good. Don't forget the luck begins with hoppin' john. And don't feel you have to stick with the traditional dish; experiment with different flavors to add some spice to your new year.

Port Royal resident Ervena Faulkner is a retired educator who has always had an interest in food and nutrition. E-mail her at

Hoppin' John

1 cup dried field peas

4 cups water

2 teaspoons salt

1 cup rice, uncooked and washed

1/3 pound bacon

Bacon grease

1 large onion, chopped

Boil peas in water and salt until tender. Fry bacon until crisp. Remove from pan and crumble. Pour off half the grease and cook onion until tender. Combine peas, 1 1/2 cups peas liquid, rice, bacon and onion. Put in rice steamer and cook until done or about 1 hour. Remove top from steamer after 10 minutes to 15 minutes of cooking time and fluff.

Garlic Hoppin' John

1 cup dry black-eyed peas

8 cups water

6 slices bacon

3/4 cup chopped onion

1 clovegarlic, minced

1 cup regular rice

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Rinse black-eyed peas. In a large sauce pan, combine peas and water; bring to a boil, then boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 1 hour. Drain, reserving 6 cups cooking liquid.

In a heavy 3-quart saucepan, cook bacon, onion and garlic until bacon is crisp and onion is tender, but not brown. Remove bacon; drain on paper towels, then crumble and set aside.

Stir black-eyed peas, raw rice, salt, pepper and reserved cooking liquid into mixture in saucepan. Bring to a boil; cover and reduce heat. Simmer 1 hour; stirring occasionally. Stir in crumbled bacon. Turn into a serving bowl. Serve immediately.

Gullah Style Hoppin' john

1 pound bag dry field peas

1 pound white rice

1/4 pound fatback

2 pieces ham hocks

Desired seasonings (salt, pepper, Season-All)

Boil ham hock and fatback in 5 cups water for 1 half hour. Add field peas to the ham hocks and fatback. Boil peas until tender. Add water until brown gravy appears. Add rice and let simmer with top on pot. Stir with fork and let cook for 45 minutes on low heat.

Hoppin' John Soup

2 teaspoons oil

3 strips bacon, chopped

2 cups collard greens, cleaned and chopped

1/2 cup onion, diced

1/4 cup celery, diced

1/4 cup carrots, diced

1 ham hock

1/4 teaspoon garlic, minced

2 quarts chicken stock

1 medium green pepper, diced

1 medium red pepper, diced

1 cup black -eyed peas, cooked

1 cup cooked rice

Salt, pepper, Tabasco pepper sauce, white vinegar to taste

In a large 1-gallon pot, heat oil, add chopped bacon and cook until crisp, stirring occasionally. Add collard greens, onion, carrot, celery, ham hock and garlic. Cook until onions are translucent; carefully add chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until ham hock is soft. Remove ham hock and set aside to cool.

Add black-eyed peas, rice, green and red peppers. Season with salt, pepper, Tabasco and white vinegar to desired flavor.

Remove meat from ham hock, dice and place into soup.

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