Welcome in the New Year with Hoppin’ John, a traditional New Year’s Day dish, and luck will follow you all year long!
What is Hoppin’ John?
Hoppin’ John is a dish traditionally eaten in the southern United States on New Year’s Day. Dating back to the early 1800s, it is made with black-eyed peas (aka cow peas), rice, and meat (usually pork, in the form of bacon or ham). The meal can also include collard greens and corn bread.
Hoppin’ John is also known as “Happy Jack,” “Happy John,” and “Hop-in-John.”
What is the History of Hoppin’ John?
Hoppin’ John is considered Southern cuisine, mainly associated with North and South Carolina, but especially the Sea Islands, off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Historians believe that the recipe was created by African slaves, who introduced black-eyed peas to America and grew them in small gardens on rice plantations. Some sources suggest that cattle grazed on black-eyed peas in the Carolinas in the early 1700s. The peas helped to suppress weeds and added nutrition to the soil, and therefore the livestock.
The first appearance of the recipe for Hoppin’ John occurred in 1847 in a book titled “The Carolina Housewife.”
Where does the name Hoppin’ John come from?
- One source suggests that Hoppin’ John was a handicapped man who cooked and sold the dish in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1841.
- One tradition has children hopping around the dinner table as the dish was brought in from the kitchen.
- A more dubious explanation suggests that in South Carolina it was customary to invite a guest to dinner by saying, “Hop in, John.”
Black-eyed peas are the main ingredient in Hoppin’ John!
What makes Hoppin’ John special?
The ingredients in Hoppin’ John have symbolic importance, and eating this dish on New Year’s Day portends good fortune in the new year:
- black-eyed peas represent coins
- collard greens represent green backs (dollars), or cash
- corn bread represents gold
- pork—especially ham hocks—recall the cheap cuts of meat provided to slaves
- tomatoes, if included, represent health
- Sometimes, the cook slips a dime into the dish before serving. It is said that wealth awaits the diner who gets the dime (and hopefully not a chipped tooth).
Some say that good luck visits those who count the black-eyed peas on their plate for a hint at the amount of luck or wealth that will ensue.
The custom of eating all but three of the black-eyed peas on your plate promises a trio of benefits—luck, wealth, and romance.
Legend has it that Sephardic Jews served black-eyed peas during Rosh Hashanah in the hope of fertility and good fortune.
Does Hoppin’ John really bring good luck?
If history is any measure, it does: It’s said that during the Union Army’s siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, many Southern families survived on black-eyed peas.
When do you eat Hoppin’ John?
For some, the tradition of eating Hoppin’ John begins at midnight (New Year’s Eve), when the dish is served with a Champagne toast.
New Year’s Day is the traditional day to eat Hoppin’ John. Any leftover can be enjoyed on later days, but be aware that the name of the dish changes to Skippin’ Jenny. Stretching the dish into leftovers demonstrates your sense of frugality and promises even greater prosperity in the new year!
Recipes for Hoppin’ John
- Try this traditional recipe for Hoppin’ John.
- Fix this Hoppin’ John Salad recipe when time is short.
Want more New Year traditions? Read about New Year’s traditions from around the world.
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