Everyone knows about the traditional New Year’s Day dish called Hoppin’ John, but the origins of the name are more mysterious. A common belief is that the dish originated in Louisiana where it was called by the French Creole name for pigeon peas, a dried pea similar to the black-eyed pea. The French Creole term is “pois a pigeon” which is pronounced pwah peeJon. Say it fast with a southern accent and it can sound like Hoppin’ John.
Recipes for Hoppin’ John vary, but the black-eyed peas, rice and collard greens are a constant. Sometimes tomatoes or a ham hock or bacon are included. Sometimes cornbread is served on the side. In any case the end result is a delicious one pot, inexpensive meal. Make enough for the day after New Year’s and as the story goes, you will double your good fortune. Each of the major ingredients has a symbolic meaning: the peas are coins, collard greens represent dollar bills, tomatoes represent health and the corn bread because of its color represents gold.
Here’s our favorite version of Hoppin’ John using bacon, but served with the rice on the side.
½ pound bacon cut into small dice
1 onion chopped fine
4 large cloves garlic minced
3 cups raw black-eyed peas rinsed
1 bunch collard greens thoroughly chopped
¼ - ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
7 cups water
28 ounces diced or crushed canned tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat a heavy bottomed soup pot. Add the bacon and cook until it releases some of the fat.
- Add the onions and garlic. Sauté until the onions are transparent.
- Add all other ingredients.
- Bring to a boil.
- Reduce to medium-low heat; cover and stir occasionally.
- Add liquid as needed.
- When beans are very tender (1-1 ½ hours) check seasoning.
Serve with rice and/or cornbread