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Recreated Hoppin’ John: A New Year’s Tradition

Discussion in 'Foods of the Civil War' started by chellers, Dec 21, 2013.

  1. chellers

    chellers 2nd Lieutenant Member of the Month

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    Forget champagne—in the Southern United States, Hoppin’ John is standard New Year’s fare. This simple, delicious dish of peas, pork and rice has graced holiday tables since the 1800s. Although it’s believed to bring luck and peace in the coming year to anyone who eats it, Hoppin’ John’s history is anything but peaceful. What’s the story behind this New Year’s tradition?

    The first recipes for Hoppin’ John appear in cookbooks that date back to the 1840s, although the mixture of dried peas, rice and pork was made by Southern slaves long before then. It seems to have originated in the Low Country of South Carolina, an area where plantation owners searched long and hard for a crop that would flourish in the hot, muggy weather. Rice grew well in the river deltas, so it was a natural choice, but the white farmers had no real experience with cultivating rice on a large scale. Enter the slave trade and enslaved West Africans who had grown rice for generations.

    Although any type of dried peas can be used for Hoppin’ John, the black-eyed pea is the most traditional. This pea happens to have been domesticated in West Africa, which led to the belief that African slaves took the peas with them, planted them in their new surroundings and created a dish that would remind them of their lost homes. This is probably only partly true. Newly abducted Africans were lucky to have clothes on their backs, and they certainly weren’t encouraged or even allowed to bring sacks of planting grain along with them. What is more likely is that slave traders saw black-eyed peas as an economical and easy way to feed their cargo.

    The origins of the name “Hoppin’ John” are slightly less clear. Some say an old, hobbled man called Hoppin’ John became known for selling peas and rice on the streets of Charleston. Others say slave children hopped around the table in eager anticipation of the dish. Most food historians think the name derives from a French term for dried peas, “pois pigeons.”

    It’s also uncertain why the dish became associated with New Year’s and good luck. The most likely story is that slaves would often have the period between Christmas and New Year’s off, since no crops were growing at that time. Hoppin’ John was, and still is, often eaten with collard greens, which can resemble paper money, and “golden” cornbread. The peas themselves represent coins. Some families boost the potential of their Hoppin’ John by placing a penny underneath the dishes—or adding extra pork, which is thought to bring more luck.

    Our modern Hoppin’ John eschews pork in favor of smoked turkey thighs, which bring flavor but less fat to the meal. We add jalapenos and red bell pepper for a bit of color and spice, and serve the whole thing atop freshly steamed white rice.

    NEW YEAR’S HOPPIN’ JOHN
    Start to finish: 1 hour
    Servings: 10
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 cup red onion, chopped
    1/2 cup celery, chopped
    1 cup red bell pepper, chopped
    2 jalapenos, stemmed and deseeded, chopped
    1 tablespoon chopped garlic
    2 smoked turkey thighs, skin removed
    1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed
    1 quart low-sodium chicken stock
    1 bay leaf
    3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
    1 teaspoon salt
    Salt, black pepper and cayenne to taste
    1 cup green onion, chopped
    4 cups freshly steamed white rice

    Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in large soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, jalapenos and garlic, and cook until opaque and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the turkey thighs, peas, chicken stock, bay leaf, thyme and a teaspoon of salt. Simmer for 40 minutes, or until peas are creamy and tender. If liquid evaporates, add more stock or water. Adjust seasonings, and garnish with green onions. Serve hot over rice.

    http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/hoppin-john-a-new-years-tradition

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  3. Pat Young

    Pat Young First Sergeant

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    My West Indian aunts, born in Barbados, also make Hoppin' John for New Year's. Is this dish popular in other countries that had slavery?
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  4. Lnwlf

    Lnwlf First Sergeant

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    Well now, that was an interesting read! I never knew it was a New Years tradition but it makes sense because of the black eyed peas!
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  5. RobertP

    RobertP Captain

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    We have it every New Years Day.
  6. donna

    donna Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    Chellers a great post.
  7. RobertP

    RobertP Captain

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    The grocery stores here in Dallas stock up on cans of black eyed peas before New Years Day, some having dedicated shelf displays for them. It is a big deal, except I don't think all the Yankees who live down here now get it. In south Louisiana, where we lived for a while, cabbage was served along with the peas and represented money.

    Where I grew up collard greens were eaten almost exclusively by black folks. At our house we got turnip and mustard greens, which I loved.
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  8. Pat Young

    Pat Young First Sergeant

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    Any idea why there were different greens eaten?
  9. RobertP

    RobertP Captain

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    I don't, Pat. Collards are in the cabbage family, with thicker, coarser leaves. Mustard greens, as the name implies, are from the mustard plant and are to me more flavorful, and with a slightly bitter taste, than turnip greens. Turnip greens are the tops of the turnip root crop. We would eat the diced turnips along with the greens. I have never eaten collards. About 15 years ago we had a black family as neighbors two doors down. They were well-to-do, had a son at Morehouse College, and we would see them occasionally at the neighborhood grocery buying collard greens. It is a black thing, I don't know why.
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  10. RobertP

    RobertP Captain

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    Speaking of greens, I remember we always had pot liquor left over after they were cooked. My mother did something with it but I can't remember what. I do know that it was said to be rich in vitamins and minerals.
  11. Pat Young

    Pat Young First Sergeant

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    I did not grow up eating "greens" at all. Long Islanders are unfamiliar with them. But in many trips to the South I get a taste for mustard, turnip, and collard greens and I began growing collards, which actually do pretty well here. I really enjoy them all and have tried to get neighbors interested.
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  12. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator

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    Canned peas. Yech. I cook mine from frozen or dried. With a bit o' bacon. The idea of using turkey is.....sacrilegious. :smile: Ham. Homemade cornbread sticks baked in Granny's mold. And to top it off, greens.....although my husband refuses to eat 'em. :smile: Unlucky devil.
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  13. 7th Mississippi Infantry

    7th Mississippi Infantry 2nd Lieutenant

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    Always use pork. A smoked ham hock slow cooked with the DRIED & SOAKED black eyed peas is delicious. A few shots of Louisiana Hot Sauce won't hurt the dish either . . .

    Some may call this sacrilegious, but a good way to satisfy the "greens" requirement for New Year's Day is a serving of Stouffer's spinach souffle. :hungry:
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2013
  14. Georgia Sixth

    Georgia Sixth First Sergeant

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    Cornbread. Now you're talking! And I do frozen BEP's. But I add in some diced jalapeno chiles, warms up any January night.
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  15. Georgia Sixth

    Georgia Sixth First Sergeant

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    Way to go, Pat. Greens are tasty and good for you too. My wife used to make beet greens, which are in another universe altogether. I could never get enough of those. Sweet and tangy.
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  16. CSA Today

    CSA Today Captain

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    All the native people here eat collards – the sizable Indian population is especially fond of them. Collard sandwiches are often a popular item at fund raising efforts and fetch amazing prices for such humble fare -- they were selling for $6 dollars each at one recent local festival. A collard sandwich consists of two cakes of fried hoecake corn bread with collards, pieces of fried fat back meat and couple of cayenne peppers as the filler. It is important to allow a couple of frosts to hit collards before cutting and eating them. Frost takes away the bitterness and tenderizes them.
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  17. Pat Young

    Pat Young First Sergeant

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    Beet greens? I'll have to try them. I buy fresh beets every fall from a local farmer, so I'll cook the greens next year.
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  18. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator

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    I think we are required to use chile in any dish we make, right?
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  19. 7th Mississippi Infantry

    7th Mississippi Infantry 2nd Lieutenant

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    Mexican cornbread is a tasty side to black eyed peas .
  20. CSA Today

    CSA Today Captain

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    Beet greens taste a lot like spinach.
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  21. RobertP

    RobertP Captain

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    Trappey's blackeyed peas are ok. The plant used to be in Lafayette, La

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