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Hoppin’ John

“Eat poor that day, eat rich the rest of the year. Rice for riches and peas for peace.” — A Southern saying on eating a dish of Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day

March 15, 2011
By Wendy Monro, Simply Food Writer

It's interesting how some amazing dishes come out of the most poverty stricken cultures.

Sometimes people are finding a way to make the best out of inexpensive food.

They also try to turn very little into a filling meal for a large group. Over time, the dishes they create and improve upon sometimes become culinary delights.

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A plate of Hoppin’ John served with greens and corn bread.

I have found that some of these country-style dishes which are easy to make and include inexpensive ingredients taste delicious.

Some of my favorite recipes come from these circumstances: sheppard's pie, ratatouille, and oxtail stew.

Anthony Bourdain explores some of these dishes on his show, "No Reservations."

Fact Box

Hoppin' John Recipe

Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 6

2 tablespoons bacon drippings

1 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

2 cups cooked ham, diced

3 8 oz. cans black eyed peas

3 cups cooked rice

salt and pepper to taste

siracha chile sauce (optional) to taste

Heat the bacon drippings on high heat. Add the onions and saute for ten minutes. Add the garlic and saute for five minutes more. Add the cooked ham, black eyed peas, and rice. Mix well. Cook for five minutes. Add salt, pepper and chili sauce to your liking.

Serve with greens (I served it with crispy kale and roasted tomatoes) and corn bread.

In his new series, Bourdain travels to impoverished countries (like Haiti) to see what they are eating. In an interview in Time Magazine, James Poniewozik interviews Bourdain and says, "...misery is as essential an ingredient of cuisine as joy.

Many beloved foods (cassolet, brisket, hopping John" came from scratch-in-the-dirt poverty."

Bourdain says, "trying to take a little and turn it into a lot...what people eat tells a story: what they're cooking and why they're cooking it."

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Yes, this is so true. This is why I love to learn about food and the origins of the dish. It's like every meal has a history that is fascinating to explore.

I have to back up a little here, when I read the article, I asked myself out loud, "Hoppin' John? What the heck is that?"

I had never heard of such a dish. I thought it might be English. It sounds like one of those catchy English foods, such as: spotted dick or toad in the hole or jacket potatoes.

I asked Claud, "have you ever heard of Hoppin' John?" He had not. That is the amazing thing about food. My education never ends and never ceases to amaze me. I had to investigate. I was excited to do it.

It turns out that Hoppin' John is a typical Southern United States dish. It is mainly associated with the Carolinas. This dish is considered gullah or low country cuisine.

The way Hoppin' John is made reflects the cooking of the Carolinas, especially the sea islands. The recipe calls for black-eyed peas. I had never eaten black eyed peas before. So, I was excited to make it.

Furthermore, Hoppin' John is thought to have been introduced to America by African slaves who worked in the rice plantations. That makes sense since the slaves probably had to make beans and rice go a long way. They probably did not have much more to work with.

Over the years, Hoppin' John has developed into a meal that is thought to bring people good luck and great fortune. How incredible?

Hoppin' John started out as a meal to feed slaves and now it is made to bring people good luck. This African-American dish is traditionally made in the South for New Year's Day. It is eaten at the stroke of midnight along with a glass of champagne. What a combination! It is meant to bring good fortune to those who eat it for the rest of the year.

Sometimes people put a coin into the recipe. Whoever finds the coin is meant to have good luck for the rest of the year. I skipped the coin when I made it because all I could think of was someone choking on it. I worry about that when Claud's mom makes Christmas pudding. In England, coins are baked into the Christmas pudding. I think people don't often choke on the coin in the pudding because Christmas pudding tastes pretty horrible and people aren't eating it very quickly. If Hoppin' John is eaten with greens such as collard greens or kale, your good luck increases because it is the color of money. Corn bread is added because it is the color of gold.

I know a lot of people are struggling with very little income all over the world.

Maybe if everyone has a dish of Hoppin' John alongside some greens and a slice of corn bread, our luck and financial abundance can take a change for the better. I don't think it matters if it is New Year's Day or not. It's worth a shot. I gave it a try.

Next time, I think I'll add a glass of champagne for good measure. The result was really tasty.

Hoppin' John on its own is pretty good; but, when you combine the greens, tomatoes, sliced sweet onions and corn bread, it is absolutely delicious. I ended up combining it all together and eating it as one.

Everyone in my house loved it (except for my vegetarian, Daphne, who did not try it).

 
 

 

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